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Four Strategies For When Distractions Seem To Sabotage Your Productivity

Recently, I spent some quality time with a family member who started a successful online business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) company. He shared with me some of the challenges he's faced running a successful startup.

Other than the usual, like financing, people, systems, etc., one of his greatest challenges was the overwhelming amount of tasks that competed for his time and attention. Always being in “urgent” mode didn’t allow him or his partner to determine what was actually important in the long run.

I shared with him some of the productivity "hacks" I use when coaching executives to overcome distractions and achieve the important tasks.

Here are my recommendations to help you stay focused and feel more accomplished.

1. Block off time to accomplish your goals.

Use a planner to write down your long-term goals (1-5 years), mid-term goals (6-12 months) and short-term goals (3-120 days). We call these "big rocks." Review them daily and create a folder of either the big rock goals for the day, the important activities you want to accomplish, emails that need attention or any other task you don't want to be distracted from.

I recommend that you take a two-hour block, say from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. Place a note on your door or desk that advises your team not to interrupt unless it's a dire emergency. Try to repeat this habit daily at the same time.

Review the big rocks and check them off as you accomplish them. Over time, you will see how much you were able to accomplish by staying focused. Have weekly team meetings to update everyone on the goals, as this enhances transparency and accountability.

2. Practice mindfulness.

Some people have discovered that mindfulness helps them think clearer and without interruption, and stay calmer. Mindfulness can be achieved through meditation. Focus on breathing in and out and not letting your mind wander. If you find that your mind has wandered, just go back to focusing on your breaths.

A great idea would be to start those two-hour blocks from Tip No. 1 with 10-20 minutes of mindfulness.

3. Break up your day into blocks.

Many experts have noted that you're better able to concentrate in spans of 90 minutes, after which, you should take a break. You might use the first part of the day to sort and answer your emails, then the next block to focus on your big rocks or other items. Between each block, you can decide what’s important and what's not. Resist the urge for distractions during these blocks of time. By doing this day in day out, you and your team will accomplish a great deal.

4. Encourage employees to solve problems on their own.

Incidentally, most managers tell me that questions from employees can be disruptive. Too often, it takes managers a long time to reply, especially if it’s a sticky question. This could only further hinder productivity.

My hack is to always ask the employee what they think the answer is or ask them to think of three solutions to the problem. Have them share with you the solution they would go with and why.

Or if you aren't able to chat right away, tell them you'll circle back with them in 48 hours. If they don't hear from you by then, they're free to move forward with their solution.

This way, employees not only get used to boundaries and time blocks, but they get into the habit of problem-solving on their own rather than finding easy answers to questions. Obviously, this is something that needs to be agreed on up front, but it works wonders.

Jacob M Engel, CEO and Author of The Prosperous Leader. I help CEOs and their organizations prosper.

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