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Master Those Distractions!

How Managing Distractions Can Help You Get More Done...

I waited at the Rotary the other day while someone apparently finished texting a message, holding up a long line of Nantucket high season traffic. Yech. It prompted me to think about all the distractions we have, and how they've inflitrated our sense of respect for others, and our abilities to get stuff done...

We do live in an electronic ADD world. Minutes can’t go by without the ring of a cell phone, the beep of a text message, the ding of a newly received email, or the pop of a lantalk.

Recently, when an unjustly sentenced 20 year prison inmate was released, his only comment to the press was that he was astonished at his first lunch in freedom at a chain restaurant was frought with cell phones, smart phones, and people texting rather than talking.

To someone deprived of this electronica for so long, the change was noticeably overwhelming. To the rest of us, it has evolved gradually. In days of yore, the telephone was the primary source of business interruptions, followed by the occasional office “drop by.” Now, our 24/7 connectedness could have us interrupted near incessantly, if we let it.

That’s the point. If we let it.

The days of the occasional interruption  are gone. Prior to the invasion of  electronic connectedness, less than skillful time managers could get away with allowing that every now and then interruption to distract them. Not any more. We’ve allowed ourselves to be interrupted continually.

• If you answer your cell phone in the middle of an important conversation, you have allowed that call to trump the relationship.

• If you look up every time your computer screen has flashed the arrival of a new message, you have given that message power over your previously set schedule.

• If you check a text message in the middle of a meeting, you’ve taken your focus off the meeting and allowed that text higher priority than the discussion at hand.

The time it takes to recover from any interruption averages about 4 minutes. (That does NOT include the time it takes to handle the interruption.) So if you look up at the flash of an incoming email only 15 times in a day, you’ll waste roughly an hour recovering from the interruption. Minimizing interruptions and distractions is an excellent strategy that will enable you to get more done.

The proliferation of potential interruptions has forced us to become proactive about managing all those interruptions, so that we can truly focus on the work at hand.

Being proactive about managing your distractions means deciding that you take control of your time. The power has switched. You now have the power to decide when and how you’ll respond to each interruption.

Here are some tips to help you take control of your day:

Turn off the distraction. Turn all flashes and dings off. Shut down your inbox. Turn off the cell phone. Shut your door.

Group like tasks. Work similar tasks in focused batches – you’ll get more done and discourage distractions.

Set a time limit for a task. By challenging yourself to complete the task by a certain time, you’ll wave off distractions and interruptions.

Make appointments. Instead of allowing or encouraging people to stop by with their questions, comments, issues, and ideas, encourage them to make appointments with you and each other. This makes managing your day much more effective, and allows you to work on what is important.

Set specific times to do such tasks as email and making phone calls. Make appointments with yourself and keep them.

Cut the distraction short. When you find yourself distracted, pull yourself back. Don’t allow it to continue.

Set boundaries about when you will check your smart phone during non business hours. Value your family time – turn it off when you walk in the door to your home. Leave it in the locker at the golf course. Set a time after which you won’t check it til the next day.

These are just some examples of how you can take control. The important point is that you do need to take control, or it will control you. The question is - who's in charge?

What tips can you share about controlling and managing interruptions?

Marsha Egan is a board certified professional coach. For more about her, visit or come to one for her coaching chats