Managing distractions at work and at home

This post is part of a series on productivity. You can find more posts in the series here.

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To be productive we need to effectively allocate our time, energy and attention to achieve our goal. Managing distractions is key to being productive. If we are distracted our attention is certainly not on the task we want it to be!

By being distracted I mean when we lose focus and are not fully present in the activity we have engaged in. What are distractions differs greatly and what can be a distraction at one point, can be something you want to focus on at another time.

We are in school holidays at the moment and I tend to block out my time so as to achieve what I need to for the day.

I outlined what an average stay at home day in school holidays looks like in my post – Non technology related school holiday activities for the kids to do at home but the main blocks are:

  • Work blocks
  • Blocks of time with the kids
  • Blocks of time for household tasks

Managing distractions with work

My work blocks are quite limited during school holidays as I am take the opportunity to spend more time hanging out and playing with the kids. This means I need to stay focused and away from distractions even more so. To help me stay on track, this is what I do:

  • Write a list – each night I write up to three key tasks I would like to achieve for the day with my work. I look at how much time I will have in the day for work and make sure that I am realistic with how much I put on the list. If I put too much on the list, I end up getting frustrated that I don’t complete it and it is easy for work to overtake the day.
  • Prioritise the list – some days just don’t work out as planned, so with my three activities I will prioritise them in order of importance (not urgency). I work best in the morning and the kids are generally still asleep (less distractions), so I will choose tasks that require the most brain power for this session. I will then set tasks to be completed in the second block and these tasks are generally lighter work.
  • Have everything I  need – when I sit down to start my work block, I make sure I am have a cup of tea and water, switch phone to silent and start working my way through the tasks. I have set my computer up to eliminate as many distractions as possible and will detail them in another post.
  • Work on one task at a time – I find if I switch between tasks, I get distracted along the way and forget what I am working on.
  • Use tools to help me focus – depending on the type of work I am doing I may use the Focus Booster app. This app is based on the Pomodoro Technique of working in 25 minute blocks then taking a break for 5 minutes. Every fourth session you take a longer break of around 15 or 20 minutes. I find this technique useful for when I am writing long blog posts or working on bigger projects.

Managing distractions when playing with the kids

Through the school holidays I endeavour to spend time with each of the kids through out the day. When you have a long to do list for household tasks and/or work tasks it is so easy to fall into thinking about all these things when you are playing with the kids as opposed to really being present with them. To prevent it this is how I set myself up:

  • Have my phone on silent.
  • Ignore the home phone if it rings.
  • Allow the child to choose the activity and then set the timer for 20 minutes.
  • At the start of play remind myself of why I am doing this – to enjoy the time and connect with my child. It is important for me to go into the activity with the right mindset, as opposed to the mindset of just completing another task.
  • Remind other children if they interrupt, that they need to wait until the 20 minutes are up and I can them help then.

Managing distractions with household tasks

This is the area where I think I find it the hardest, possibly because there are just so many distractions – kids, work, phones, sitting down in the sunshine! I take a similar approach to these distractions as I do to my work distractions:

  • At night I also write a list of three household tasks I would like to achieve the following day. I prioritise them in order of importance.
  • Knowing what I have on for the day, I mentally plan when I can fit these activities in, for example whether I will prepare dinner in the morning or cook it straight at dinner time.
  • Setting a timer helps me stay focused on a task. It can be easy to spend 30 minutes on a task that really only takes 15.
  • Single task, multitasking is really quite inefficient and as with work, switching opens much more room for distraction.

I know days when I am tired, I am more easily distracted, so getting more sleep is also very important to avoid distractions in all parts of my life.

How do you manage the distractions in your life?