If you’re anything like us, your workday can sometimes end with you wondering where the time went.
You remember emails, phone calls and tasks that vied for your attention. You remember the long to-do list you had in the morning.
Now the day is over, and it seems like that list hasn’t gotten any shorter. And most likely distractions are what kept you from completing that list.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Practicing these five tips can eliminate distractions in your small business and your workday so you’ll finish each day productively.
1. Focus on one task at a time for at least 25 minutes.
This task management system is known as Pomodoro Technique.
To start, set a timer for 25 minutes. Then focus on one task or one list item for the entirety of that time.
After the timer goes off, place a checkmark on a sheet of paper. Then take a break.
For fewer than four checkmarks, your break should be about 3 to 5 minutes. After four checkmarks, your break should be around 15 to 30 minutes.
This sounds simple, but it does take a fair amount of discipline. There can be no rabbit trails, no checking emails or texts, and – if you practice the technique like Social Media Manager Bethany does – no tabs open in your Internet browser that are unrelated to the task at hand.
One side note: While the Pomodoro Technique emphasizes 25 minutes of work, our humble opinion is that this work session can be extended if the task at hand requires it.
For example, writing a blog takes longer than 25 minutes. So Social Media Manager Bethany often breaks work sessions into 45-minute or hour-long stretches of work with short breaks between.
You can learn more about the science and thought behind the Pomodoro Technique here.
2. Stop the never-ending notifications.
One of the most common distractions in small businesses are notifications. This includes notifications from social media, email and your phone. Eliminating them is key to improving your overall productivity.
That’s because, as one study from the University of California, Irvine, states, it can take up to 25 minutes to get back on task after a distraction like a popup email notification. So even a few interruptions every hour can add up to tasks taking much longer than they should.
There are a number of ways to cut back on notifications or distracting websites like, say, Facebook. Leechblock, for example, can block up to 30 websites for fixed time periods or operate within time limits of 10 minutes a day, hour, etc.
For your phone and email, though, you’ll have to set those parameters.
With your smartphone, it’s best to store it outside of your office to optimize your cognitive power because, as this study from the University of Chicago indicated, the mere presence of your phone reduces your capacity to think.
But if there’s no place to store it away from you, at least place it in your purse or desk drawer with the sound notifications turned off. If you have an iPhone, you can do this easily by enabling the “Do Not Disturb” mode, which silences all notifications but still allows calls from a pre-selected group.
Turning off the notifications for your email is also important to remove distractions in your small business. When PR Expert and Strategist Tracy needs to focus on a specific project, she makes it a point to only check her email every 30 minutes.
Some of these steps may seem like an impossibility given the parameters of your job. But remember if there’s a true emergency, you will most likely be receiving a phone call, not an email or a text.
3. Find a chatter-free workspace.
Sometimes distractions come from outside noise that you need to block in order to focus.
Art Directors Shelley and Sandra and Interactive Developer Jim use music to dampen the everyday office chatter. Strategist & PR Expert Tracy swears by a website called Noises Online that provides masking sounds.
However, working in a quiet conference room or an unoccupied, out-of-the-way office will likely provide the best results since studies have found music can be a distraction when working on “immersive” tasks that require a lot of thought.
This principle fleshed out interestingly at a design agency called Navy, where there was an intense struggle to get work done in the office. Employees were actually choosing to stay home when they needed to focus on a project.
Because of this, the agency instituted a daily quiet time, which meant no talking, no emails, no chats and no meetings. After the experiment, they compared years of data and found out the agency was 23% more productive due to the few hours spent in silence.
But if complete silence or an unoccupied space isn’t possible, music may be less of a distraction than the chatter of coworkers. So grabbing your headphones could be a good choice if you can’t get away.
4. Communicate that you need space to concentrate.
In fact, that’s exactly what Art Director Shelley does when she’s on a tight deadline!
Remember, your team members can most likely survive without having access to you for a few hours.
And distraction-free concentration cannot be overestimated.
Cal Newport, an author and computer science professor at Georgetown University, argues that this “deep work” allows you to create new value and improve your skills. Plus, it’s difficult to replicate, which makes you indispensable both in your workplace and your industry.
So don’t be afraid to tell your team when you need to shut your door or be off-limits for a set amount of time. You may not be able to do the five hours of work discussed in Newport’s book, but even a few hours a week can make a difference.
Just make sure to communicate when you will be available for them to drop by your office, touch base about a project or chat on the phone.
5. Learn how to prioritize.
In small business, it’s easy to feel like each task needs to be addressed right away. Learning how to best prioritize, though, will make a huge difference in eliminating distractions and low-value tasks.
Some businesses have this built in through the oversight of a project manager or a task management software.
However, if that’s not part of your small business, prioritizing is a must at the start of each day, week or month.
There are a ton of different ways to do this. But one of the techniques we like most is the ABCDE method.
- A: What absolutely must be done.
- B: Tasks that you should do.
- C: Tasks that it would be nice to complete.
- D: Things that you can delegate to someone else.
- E: Items that should be eliminated.
Writing down all of your tasks each day and assigning them these letters can quickly remove distractions in your small business. Even the inevitable unexpected task can be quickly assessed and placed into a category.
Don’t Lose Your Focus
Removing distractions in your small business can increase your sense of satisfaction at the end of each day, boost your ability to focus on tasks outside of work, and grow the overall productivity of your workplace.
But don’t feel you need to go all in right away. Instead, focus on one of these tips to get started, adding a new one as you get comfortable with a tip.
Because you don’t want to end each day wondering where the time went. And you don’t have to let distractions decrease the productivity of your small business.