Distractions are a part of life. When your neighbour says hi while you are in the middle of a complex calculation and you stop to say hi back only to find that you have forgotten what step you were on and have to start again from the beginning, that is a distraction. It is impossible to eliminate distractions from your life. You can’t stop your friendly neighbour saying hi when you’d rather work in peace. You also can’t predict when your children will try to get your attention with the latest picture they have drawn. What you can do is choose how you manage distractions.
Broadly speaking, the distractions we have to manage fall into two categories: internal and external. An internal distraction is you suddenly curious to find out the year popcorn was invented while doing your business accounting. An external distraction is that phone call from your friend while you are in a meeting.
Both have the potential to turn your day from productive to reactive. Productive is when you have a plan for the day, you make a to-do list and you get important tasks done. Reactive is when you allow your schedule to be dictated by others. This is more likely to happen when you do things like check every email as soon as it comes in or pick any call regardless what you are doing.
An internal distraction is generally easier to manage. The distraction is coming from you and you are responsible for your own actions. With a little discipline and making small changes to how you work, it can be beaten. Developing the habit of deep focus is the best way to deal with internal distractions. Block out an hour or two of time during which you pick a task and work on it nonstop. To make the habit stick, work from the same spot each day. Eventually, your mind associates that spot with productive work and you will need less effort to get started.
External distractions, on the other hand, require you controlling your reaction to other people’s demands. When working on a task that requires concentration, I find it is often a good idea to turn off mobile data and put your phone in a drawer. Trust me, it can wait. If it’s an emergency, they will find a way to get in touch with you. James Clear, Author of the productivity book “Atomic Habits” lets his Personal Assistant change his social media passwords every Monday so he can’t log in during the week. She gives him the new password on Friday so he can do all the social media he wants over the weekend. You may not need to go that far but you really need to learn to stay away from social media while working. Nothing in the contemporary world can be quite the time trap that social media is. Best get on top of that.