Are you constantly checking your phone and refreshing your email? Whether you find yourself scrolling through status updates or disrupted by your coworker in the next cubicle — who suddenly decided to hold a conference call on speakerphone — it can take up to 23 minutes to recover from even the smallest distraction. With all the demands on your time, it can be nearly impossible to stay focused.
A comScore study reports that we spend up to three hours attached to our smartphones every day. If we add time spent with our friends, loved ones, and business associates into the mix, it’s no wonder we can’t get our work done.
Attention has become a scarce resource, and we’re faced with hundreds of productivity-killing interruptions a day. And distractions are costing companies big. According to Jonathan Spira, author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous to Your Organization, companies lose upwards of 30 hours a week to attention-sucking activities. On a grand scale, that’s 28 billion hours wasted a year and a $1 trillion hit to the U.S. economy.
Imagine the impact that getting caught in an email rabbit role could have on your small business. Don’t worry — it is possible to get your work done during the daily grind. Here are five foolproof ways to ditch the distractions and stay focused on the job.
1. Be on the move.
Studies have shown that getting up and walking around for five minutes every hour can boost productivity and help you to regain your focus. Compared to employees bound to their desks and those who walked for 30 minutes before working for five-hour stretches, the workers who stood up and walked every hour showed less fatigue and increased happiness.
We can get so caught up in calls, meetings, and paperwork that we later look up and realize hours have passed us by. Why not set an hourly alarm on your phone, which will remind you to get up, stretch, and take a few laps around the office or your place of work? You’ll be surprised by how refreshed you’ll feel when you come back to your work!
2. Prioritize your “deep work.”
Multitasking doesn’t work, and science proves it. Instead of playing the task-switching game, consider trying “deep work.” Deep work is the act of completely immersing yourself in a task that requires brainpower without interruption. Coined by Georgetown University professor Cal Newport, the practice of deep work will produce better results in a shorter time frame. Think about athletes who spend hours concentrating on a single move or practicing a routine — they get better at what they do because they stay focused on the details.
Consider this hack: Instead of starting your day plowing through your inbox, come in early, turn off the WiFi, find a quiet room, and work on your chosen task for an hour. Your email will still be in your inbox waiting for you; however, you can start the day with a sense of achievement because you’ve completed the hard work.
3. Limit your ambient noise.
Did you know that background noise can wreak havoc on our concentration? Ambient interruptions could increase stress, which triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone designed to ease that stress. However, constant stress disrupts your prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that regulates your ability to learn, plan, reason, and remember things. If you can’t nix the noise, consider investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones for the times when you need to focus.
4. Block your time and batch your work.
Here’s a productivity 101 tip: Practice the Pomodoro technique. It’s similar to deep work in the sense of focused attention; however, the method works for people who can’t devote hours at a time to a singular task, but who can organize their day into manageable chunks.
When you’re up against a tough task, break the work down into short, timed intervals that are balanced by short breaks. Sprint for 25 minutes on a task, take a five-minute break, and then go back for another 25 minutes. This Pomodoro technique, invented by entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo, can also help you improve your attention span.
Alternatively, you could batch your work by setting aside a specific amount of time to bang out tasks in bulk. Do you have to review documents or check in on employees? Instead of spacing the activities out over the course of the day, why not compact them in blocks of time? Knowing there’s an endpoint to a series of tasks can help you get to the finish line, focused and productive.
5. Put your phone in airplane mode.
Blocking the obvious productivity-killing culprit — your smartphone — is a sure-fire way to get your head back on the task at hand. Don’t feel bad — software and technology companies design their apps and programs to help get you addicted to notifications and beeps. Sometimes, you need to go cold turkey in order to get your work done. Switch your phone into airplane mode for periods of time, so you won’t be tempted to peek and refresh.
As a small business owner, you know you need to stay focused on the tasks at hand, and yet you’re operating in a world that at times seems designed to thwart you at every turn. In order to preserve your most precious resource — your attention — you’ll have to take charge of both your schedule and your environment, and design a work day that works for you and your business.
Have you tried any of these easy productivity fixes? Do you have habits of your own that help you get the job done? Tell us in the comments below!