The one who wants to work with full concentration and focus on the task that really needs to get done right now will do best to rid themselves of as many distractions as possible.
Email notification sounds, the phone ringing, app-notifications and colleagues that pass our doorway is one thing; what we often do not think of removing are things we happen to catch a glance of that concern something completely different than what we need to focus on right now, and distracts us when we need it the least.
For you who prefer listening to reading, this post is also available as an episode of the “Done!” podcast:
Something isn’t nothing
When I speak to people about having an empty email inbox, someone always says ”I basically have an empty inbox — I never have more than 20 emails in it”.
Sure, it might feel nice and somewhat of a victory to keep the email inbox at bay and prevent it from getting out of hand, but something isn’t nothing — having emails in the inbox means that it is not empty. The purpose of having an empty inbox is not to prove how good, efficient or quick at processing emails we are, but to give us as few visual impressions and distractions as possible. Why? Because it is so easy to get distracted by emails left in the inbox when looking for other emails concerning something completely different.
Removing those last ones makes all the difference
And the same goes for our physical working space. Sure, it is sometimes great to be able to spread out the material for the task we are currently working with, but those last few notes and reminders that are left on the noticeboard right in our field of view will distract us during the next task. If you want to make it easier to get things done when you really need to focus, then get rid of those last little distractions too — not to be pedantic, but because it’s not until you have done so that you will reap the benefits of having an empty, clean and inviting surrounding environment.
All possibilities for voluntary distractions are still there
Perhaps you do not often have tasks that require this kind of extra concentration and perhaps you even tend to get inspired by things you happen to catch a glance of when you are working away as usual. If so I understand if you don’t want to ”get rid of everything” just for the sake of it and for these rare occasions when you need to focus completely. Then at least make sure you have a space or place where you can easily go if you really need to focus. It can be the end of your corner desk at your office, a quiet room available in your department, or a place in the city where you sometimes like to hide away.
But, if you happen to be somewhat like myself and many of my mentees, and you too need a few moments of visual and auditory peace and quiet on a daily basis, then remove those last notes, pictures or items as well, and the final emails in the inbox too. If you want to be inspired by having many different and spontaneous visual impressions that make your mind wander to new heights, there is a whole world of shimmering lights, sounds and people to delve into right outside your door.
If you want to create the prerequisites for being extra focused, then do this:
- Have a look around. What do you see that makes your mind wander more than you want it to while working? Is it one of those last remaining notes on the noticeboard? Some document left behind on the computer desktop? One of those left-behind emails in the inbox that represents something you have to remember doing? A few papers on the desk that you will need for a task in a few days?
- Process and store away these items as well. Meaning, ask yourself what they really mean to you.
- If it is actually trash, throw it away.
- If it is reference information you will need at a later date — save it somewhere other than where your eye accidentally catches it.
- If it consists of papers you know when you will need, but it is a while until this time comes — mail it to yourself by putting it in your tickler file.
- If it is something that will take you a few minutes to do, finish or take care of — do it right away.
- If it constitutes something that takes longer than two minutes to process or do — formulate a to-do-task describing what needs to be done and add it to your to-do-list.
- If the note or email represents something more extensive that needs to be done and that takes longer than a workday to complete, add this project or task to your overview of more extensive tasks and projects.
- If it is a note reminding you that you are still waiting for something from someone, add what you are waiting for and from who to your list or other location where you keep track of things you are waiting for from others.
- When you have processed and dealt with all the remaining items, papers and emails, then it is empty. Tabula rasa.
Get it done
If you remove those final items or papers in your field of view you will be completely rid of any distracting elements that steal you attention and focus when you need it the most. Naturally, your working environment doesn’t always have to be completely swiped clean, but having less clutter around you will definitely make it easier to focus when you have something important and complicated to do.
Any other ideas?
What usually distracts you the most at work? Tell me!