7 Ways to Find Your Focus

Do you have a moment?  Are you free? Can you help me? This will only take a minute. Yeah, right — how often have you heard that one? Constant interruptions can kill your concentration and put a crimp in your productivity.  And according to recent research, you are probably suffering the tyranny of interruptions much more often than you realize.

One study by Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, found that workers spend on average only 10 minutes and thirty seconds on a task before being interrupted by either an external source (56 percent of the time) or self-interruption (44 percent of the time). Mark points out that part of the problem is how long it takes people to get back on track once they’ve been distracted.

“It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for people to return to the original task after being interrupted,” says Mark. “And 40 percent of the time, workers don’t return to their original task at all, but instead wander off in a new direction,” she says.

Another 2007 report, from the Center for Creative Leadership, found that 52 percent of managers surveyed are interrupted about once every 30 minutes. These interruptions come from co-worker requests, cell phone calls, incoming emails and multitasking. Among these, multitasking has a particularly negative impact on productivity. The Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found that when workers are constantly juggling multiple tasks, their IQ falls ten points.

So how can you keep yourself from being driven to distraction? To overcome interruptions and stay on track, try these following seven strategies excerpted from my book, “Time Management In An Instant: 60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day.”

Propose later: The next time someone strolls into your office asking, “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” say “I’d be happy to, but not right now.” Instead of dropping everything you are doing, make an appointment to meet later. Doing so will not only save you the stress of having to stop what you are working on and shift gears, but insures that later when you do meet, the other person will have your full focus.

Set a time limit: If the matter is urgent, find out how much time the person needs and negotiate to give them that much (and no more) at that moment. If future discussions are required, another meeting can be set up.  Most people when pressed to make their point quickly, will get to it in about half the time it would normally take.

Bypass the story: When you’re pressed for time, encourage people to bypass the narrative and get straight to the point. Ask the other person to summarize in one sentence what they need from you, the solution they propose and the specific time by which they need it.

Change locations: If you have a particular project that requires a lot of concentration, consider commandeering an empty office that is not in use and working from there.

Schedule open-door hours: Schedule, post and promote open-door hours on given days. With a little encouragement most people will wait until these times to talk to you about non-urgent matters.

Store supplies elsewhere: If co-workers come into your office to access files, office supplies or other materials, move them to a location where you are not continually disturbed by their retrieval.

Ditch the ding. If you receive a steady stream of incoming emails during the day and have your system set to alert you every time one comes in — kill it.  Even if you ignore the ding and don’t check email, the noise still acts as a distraction and can disrupt your concentration.

Lastly, don’t forget that the point of limiting interruptions is to improve your productivity and effectiveness – not to avoid the people around you. Always keep in mind the bigger picture of your customers’, co-workers’ and company’s needs, as you strive to conquer disruptions and sustain your concentration.

What tricks do you use to avoid distractions?