Last week’s article was about the power of “No.” A simple word but with great power to help you take control of your schedule. Hopefully by now, you have had some practice with saying “No.” The goal is to eventually reach a level where you learn to say “yes” to opportunities and “no” to distractions.
With practice, it’s easy to know when to politely redirect your colleague’s offer for last minute help on a project they had two months to work on. Outside the workplace, however, it can become more difficult to decide which tasks to give up. Let’s examine the following list:
Take minutes of the meeting of market women’s association.
Service the generator at the orphanage
Do the book keeping for the Youth association
Read to five year olds at the library
Deliver the opening speech at your nephew’s speech and prize giving day
“Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.”
What do you do when someone asks you to do a task you would rather not? Picture this scenario. You are working on a project early in the morning, trying to build momentum. Someone approaches. They ask if you have five minutes. They need your help to go over a report that they have to submit later today. What do you tell them?
You have three options. The first is to say “No. Go away.” That would do the trick and you might be able to get back to work after that but it won’t win you any allies that way. The second is to say “Yes” and allow the person take control of your schedule for the rest of the morning. You know the report was supposed to have been their responsibility and you feel they shouldn’t bother you. It’s not your job to look over their report. Yet you also feel you could do a better job of it than your colleague. Maybe they need a little help after all and you know you could write a better report than them. So you check the report and it’s a mess and you end up having to rewrite parts of it. By the time you are done, you have “helped” your colleague write a report and they can turn it in just in time. Then you go back to your original task and curse the fact that since you have wasted so much time you now have to work after office hours to finish your work.
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.
This post is the third in a series of posts I am writing this month on how to deal with distractions at work. If you have not read the earlier posts, you can read them here and here. Today’s post will focus on how to deal with distractions from coworkers and friends.
Everyone has that co-worker who drops by to say hi and magically stays to chat for an hour. You might have a friend that drops by your workplace unannounced and expects you to listen to their problems? We are social creatures who want to connect and have positive relationships with people. The people you work with are part of your professional network. You will often need their input at some point if you are to be effective at the job you do. It will be a bad idea to alienate them. Your friends also represent an important part of your network. Hanging out on your own can be dreadfully dull.
Let’s face it, distractions are everywhere. It could take the form of desktop notifications or a colleague who stops to say hi and chats for one hour. It could simply be your children playing loudly in the background or an argument you had in the morning that affects your ability to concentrate later in the day.
Most distractions come either from the internet or from other people. Few offices have really private areas, except if you are a high level executive with a private office. In an office where everyone can drop by at any time, it’s easy to spend an hour chatting with the colleague who stops by your desk to wish you good morning. Distractions from the internet can be even harder to deal with. In a culture that fears missing out and constantly refreshes social media pages, it can be difficult to take a deep breath and stay offline to get meaningful work done.