You start the day with a plan. You have meetings scheduled, you have your list of goals and key action items that you must complete, and you are ready to go. You are ready to meet the day with excitement and enthusiasm believing that today is going to be your most productive day ever. As the day progresses, the only certainty seems to be the meetings that are in your calendar taking place but the outcome of the meetings have left much to be desired. Your list of goals and must do items, are fighting for your time and attention to even get started and by the end of the day, you are left either having to work later than required because now you are trying to get those important goals and must do items done. By the time you leave work, you are tired and exhausted and rather confused with what happened. The huge gap between what you had imagined and planned out at the start of the day and the reality of the day collides.
So, what happened? I am sure that you are able to fill in the blank with the distractions that took place during the 8-hour day. Some common examples that you would have encountered are:
1. Meetings that took up more time than was scheduled either because there was wasteful time of either waiting for people or people not prepared for the meeting. In between, distractions such as left-field topics were introduced and that took up precious meeting discussion time. The meeting had no clear agenda and no clear follow-up or action items as a result.
2. Something “urgent” dropped on your desk by your manager or your direct report. Something that you need to get done because it has been dropped to you. These “urgent” items that were dropped on your lap, now takes up all the time that you had initially planned for to complete your important task. Now in the midst of doing this seemingly urgent task, you are kicking yourself and wondering why you did not push back or negotiate a different timeline. Maybe you should have asked yourself another good question “Am I the best person to do this now?”
3. The simple lunch catch-up took way more time than you had planned for. Why? You were listening to a friend or colleague telling you that she is having a bad day. Trying to be the good friend that you are, you have now taken on more than you had bargained for. Oh well, you are a friend after all, so you are doing your part. However, now you are way behind not just on your planned action items but also the “urgent” items that were dropped on your lap. While you are present listening to your friend, you are distracted with all your thoughts of what you need to do and to be honest, not doing a great job listening to your friend either.
The list can go on and I am sure that you can relate to all of them or some of them. The reality is that most of our planned-out schedule looks great on Outlook with all the categories colour coded. Afterall, who does not like seeing a beautifully colour coordinated calendar. I sure do. I am sure you can tell that my calendar looks amazing, Pinterest worthy to be sure.
The question remains, what are these distractions and what can I do to reduce them? To solve any challenge, we first need to identify what these distractions are or what categories they would fall under. What are the causes of distractions?
So let’s break it down.
What are the top 3 causes of distractions?
- Not setting boundaries.
- Not being able to say No.
- Trying to please others. Taking on more than you need to.
What can you do to reduce distractions?
- Set up your work boundaries. That’s right, you will need to set up your work boundaries. This applies to your non-negotiable times where it could be your block of time that you have set aside to complete your key actions items or task that is related to your goals. The non-negotiable times could be for: planning, thinking, analysing, reviewing. Block out time in your calendar and make it known that during this block of time you are not to be disturb unless the world is collapsing type reasons.
- Know when to say No or to negotiate the outcome and timing. There are situations where you will just have to say “No” to someone’s request because someone else’s urgent does not need to be your urgent. Yes, you might be disappointing that person but you have your own set of accountabilities that you need to achieve. The other approach is to negotiate for a different timeline if you need to take on someone else’s urgent. Be realistic and do not commit to other people’s urgent because there are consequences to that action. Remember, time is the most valuable resource that you are not able to get more off so think about it carefully. What you trade off doing someone else’s urgent takes time from your important which over time will turn into urgent too.
- Don’t try to please everyone. You cannot please everyone. You will never be able to make everyone around happy all the time. You will need to acknowledge that when you say “No” to someone’s request for help, you will feel bad because you want to help but something is usually urgent because it was overlooked to begin with. The most common reason any item was overlooked lies in either the person didn’t want to do it to begin with or there was no time to get it done. The cycle of pain sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
I always remember what one of my managers told me once, “You are not here to win the popularity contest. You are here to do your job.” The reality is that for the most part, to do your work well, you will have to say no to some people. Not because you are not nice or helpful but because you have your set of responsibilities and if you don’t do your part, then someone else will have to take the consequences for that. Work today is so intertwine and collaborative in nature that if one person fails to deliver his or her portion, the impact is not just on one person but the entire team or project.
What are your greatest distractions?
What can you do today to reduce or eliminate them?
What small simple steps can I take now?
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I hope that you have learned at least one thing that you are able to apply into your everyday life. Let’s step into the everyday with purpose. As always, please subscribe, follow and share this podcast with your friends. Take care and step into the everyday with purpose.