Humanity has been distracted from the very beginning of time. From swatting annoying flies while working in the field, to dealing with a constantly ringing phone or piles of paper at work, disturbances and distractions have always found a way to intrude on our productivity.
However, never have the distractions been as expansive, as frequent, as persistent, and as irritating as they are today. It’s the era of news feeds, push notifications, the Twitterverse, and Snapchat. And there seems to be no escape.
This age of distractions calls for a comprehensive plan to battle them on a daily basis. Here are a few of our suggestions on how to make 2017 the year when you aren’t thrown off track by what your surroundings throw at you.
Say no to phones while working
Or no to phones completely.
It’s easy to recognize the convenience of having a smartphone that is constantly connected to the world-wide-everything at lightning fast speed, but it’s also a tremendous potential time suck that most of us have become accustomed to glancing down at every time we feel bored/anxious or in need of new stimuli.
I spent the last month of the year taking a break back home in the desert of Arizona, hiking through some of the highest mountains the southwest has to offer. I went many days without the internet or other forms of connectivity and can personally vouch for the fact that disconnecting creates a lot of extra time for more important or enjoyable things in life — like writing, reading, thinking, and even conversing with actual humans.
Bring the serenity of the Arizona desert to your workplace. Start by putting some parameters in place around how and when you use your phone when you’re on the clock.
Say no to getting by without a plan
If you merely say to yourself, “Today, I am going to get some work done,” you’ll probably spend a lot of time confused about what to do and maybe end up not doing anything productive at all.
Whether you make your daily, monthly or annual to-dos on paper (old-school planners are enjoying a renaissance) or keep track of them digitally, lists are your friend. If you really want to set yourself up for success, revisit your daily to-do list at the end of the day and transfer any incomplete items to the list you’re building for tomorrow. That way, you can hit the ground running in the AM, with your priorities already mapped out.
Say no to outside forces controlling your time
You are the keeper of your schedule. If you don’t set boundaries around distractions and earmark your hours for their best purpose, it’s easy to fall prey to distractions like social media, drawn-out Slack exchanges or meetings that don’t deliver value.
A good way to wholly ‘own’ your time, is to mark out chunks of hours in a day to focus on work that really matters. Cal Newport recommends ‘time blocking’ wherein he advises meticulously and proactively detailing how you plan to spend your day. As he writes on his blog:
“Using your inbox to drive your daily schedule might be fine for the entry-level or those content with a career of cubicle-dwelling mediocrity, but the best knowledge workers view their time like the best investors view their capital, as a resource to wield for maximum returns.”
Your time is a precious resource, but it isn’t a renewable one. Make 2017 the year you guard it more carefully and use it more effectively by cutting down on distractions.