Do you feel like these days distractions at work have become more prevalent? You’re not alone. Members of Congress openly acknowledge that progress on any kind of health care overhaul or tax reform will be difficult because Congress is distracted by the Russian investigation.
A colleague I was working with recently confessed to being constantly distracted because of one client. The client is just not able to strategically plan out his work and so every idea becomes a crisis, and therefore a disruption in the form of text, phone call, and email for my colleague.
I recently had dinner with a friend who openly confessed that the current news reports are distracting him from making progress on assignments he’s currently handling. He’s making slow progress, but not the kind of progress that he usually makes.
We all have times when our days are interrupted by events beyond our control, or things that seem to be distracting to us. Sometimes, there isn’t much we can do. But maybe there are some actions we can try.
Distractions have a bad habit of derailing people and projects. First, distractions eat up actual time that cannot be spent on the project. Second, distractions trick the mind into not being able to focus. So, what can project leaders do to help distracted teams? What can individuals do to improve their own productivity? In this blog, I offer five ideas for preventing distractions from impeding progress.
Remove the distractions, when possible.
It sounds simple but you may be surprised how often it works. I don’t expect that someone is going to eliminate the Russian investigation or remove Donald Trump’s twitter account but in your own life, if you think creatively, perhaps you can remove some distractions.
Whether it’s the automatic pop-ups on your computer, or the constant text alerts, cut them off and create a schedule for checking those communications that will not disrupt your workflow. Turn off the news. Tell your employees that you’re available for questions during certain hours and shut the door, or put on headphones. Remove any distractions that prevent you from doing deep work.
The trick is to acknowledge what is actually distracting us and think creatively about preventing distractions.
Adjust your perspective on what constitutes a distraction.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what we are doing that it feels like a call from a loved one is a distraction. Our children, aging parents, spouses, and our work are all parts of our life.
Parents of small children may have a rough time accomplishing deep work when the children are awake, but let’s agree that they are not distractions. After all, they’re only small for a few years. Sometimes we need to reset our perspective. That reset may include adjusting our expectation about the amount of work that we can accomplish in any 24-hour period.
When you’re a team leader and the distractions are coming from an executive who is bouncing the team from one thing to another, it is your job to tackle that problem. This is where having a clear change management process can help. You may have to politely confront executives and ask them to bring requests to you and not to individuals on the team. I’ve written before on change management and you can read it here.
Look for commonalities.
Back to Congress and its difficulty getting serious legislation passed. It’s much harder to accomplish a job when the team is divided. And that is certainly the case in Washington.
What about your project teams? Great ideas often grow out of conflict, but only when teams adopt a solution-oriented mindset. Staying focused on the negative is typically not as productive as looking for ideas on which a lot of people agree. Can you find ideas on which everyone agrees?
Play together. Dine together.
When the only hours you spend with your colleagues are spent working, don’t be surprised when you start getting on each other’s nerves. And when your colleagues are getting on your nerves, you will likely view them as a distraction.
I’m not suggesting that all companies need to go the way of the Silicon Valley startups and put in ping pong tables, free coffee and regular keg socials. I’m saying that creativity doesn’t walk in the door at 8:30 and stay until 5.
Remember when your Mom or Dad made everyone in the family spend your entire Saturday raking leaves, planting flowers, and then cleaning the garage? I remember more than one month of Saturdays that were spent on chores. It was hard to like anyone or enjoy anything on those days.
Playing, relaxing, and dining together can be tremendously important. True play can be a great source of inspiration. Laughter can be great medicine. And just like ideas often occur to individuals in the shower, ideas can often come to teams when they are taking a break from work. Sometimes, what seems like a distraction is simply a different path forward.
Find a beneficial outcome that you can produce together.
There is so much focus on the negative these days. How can we turn the lens around and see the good? Some people are just much more frustrated by distractions than others.
I was talking to a friend recently about her ADHD. She said that when she chose a career, she opted for one that came with a lot of distractions. She is not capable of sitting down at a computer and working for long hours on one work product. She is, however, very good at tackling the little emergencies that occur throughout the day. This allows others to focus on their strengths and together the team is able to consistently perform at a very high level.
Instead of focusing on all of the things that you aren’t accomplishing, try focusing attention on something that you can and should be accomplishing.
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