Work these days is no longer limited at the office. More and more people are choosing home-based jobs that pay just as well, if not more. As the labor force transforms, the type of distractions we face also change in nature. Aside from the usual office gossip or chatter, today, our attentions are also challenged by the Web, social media, and mobile apps.
However, these “distractions” are sometimes necessary to complete our tasks (like Tweeting to promote a book) or promote healthy relationships. So what do you do when you have a deadline in three hours plus a mountain of emails to check? If you can’t plan ahead, try these six tips to boost productivity without scrimping out on a little bit of good fun.
1. Schedule Small Tasks for Last
This is one of my favorite pieces of advice, which has also saved me plenty of time and headaches. Simply put: no matter how big your To-Do list is for that day, eat your live frogs first. This technique was taken from Mark Twain’s quote, which means you need to finish your biggest tasks first so that you can go through the day knowing that the worst is over.
For instance: if you need a report done by 3PM but you also need to reply to emails, obviously, your frog is the report. Put the emails last as that can be more time-consuming. CEO and success coach Brian Tracy suggests doing your ugliest, most challenging tasks first, if you had to choose between two frogs.
2. Use Tools
Take advantage of modern technology. Ask yourself: what’s the best way to help you concentrate? A Post-It note? An online timer? A mobile planner? Choose something that works for you and that you’re comfortable using everyday. I personally subscribe to both traditional (a customized planner) and modern (an online app) ways to make sure I remove unnecessary distractions during work.
I love using Toggl to help me stay on track of my daily activities, while Redbooth allows me to stay in touch with colleagues no matter how many projects we tackle. Use tools in conjunction with tip #1 for a great increase in efficiency!
3. Talk To Distracters
A little office chatter is fine. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to avoid feeling isolated at work and to connect with your team. However, there are just times when the last thing you need is noise. If you work in open office settings, it can be difficult to avoid this type of distraction.
What I like to do – because we use tools like Skype – is to change my status to “Busy” to indirectly say that I need to be left alone, but I’m still available in case they need help. If noise really bothers your productivity though, talk to your team or supervisor about it.
For individuals who work from home, distracters can come in the form of house calls from friends or neighbors. Don’t be afraid to politely reschedule. Be honest and tell them that you need to finish a project, BUT would love to have lunch or dinner as soon as you’re available.
*Important note: children should NOT be treated as distracters. If your kids, grandkids, nieces, or nephews ask for some time, give them your full attention – or none at all.
4. Use Headphones
Colleagues not getting the hint?
Make sure to pack your headphones with you so you can drown out needless noise. Just be sure to check if your office permits use of it during working hours. If you prefer ear plugs to completely get away from chatter, just be cautious because you may not hear people calling for you. Fill up your music player with your favorite tunes, or maybe relaxing melodies like the sound of rushing waves.
5. Keep Your Desk Clear
Sure, a tiny plush toy or small picture frame is okay to personalize your working space. But there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Be honest: is your desk littered? Although people may argue that a messy desk is a sign of a creative mind, it just shows unprofessionalism at the office. If you work from home, a cluttered desk wastes your time by having you sort through piles when searching for stuff.
Ensure that important information is safe – and away from prying eyes – by keeping a clean work area. Take home books and magazines. Eat away from your desk. Compile papers in binders or folders. Tuck away items in your drawer. The cleaner your table is, the better you’ll feel about finishing your tasks.
6. Move Away
Sometimes, no matter what you do, distractions still follow. There are just noises you can’t drown out or people who are difficult to talk to. In such situations, perhaps your best recourse is to move away from the distraction.
For people who work in open office settings, here are a few suggestions:
- If you need to fully concentrate on a task, ask if you can borrow the conference room or any available vacant space to focus.
- Is your office empty before or after working hours? Try eating your frogs during those times when there are fewer people on the floor.
- Strike a deal with your boss if you can have flexible hours. That way, you can choose to work away from the office on specific days of the week.
How about for folks who work from home? Here are a couple of recommendations:
- Setup your own work area that’s away from usual distractions (such as the TV, PC, or fridge).
- If it’s too hard to focus at home, why not go out? See if you can do more at your local café or community park.
- Deadline looming but there’s just too many interruptions? It may not be healthy, but for emergency cases, you can also finish tasks either late at night or early morning, when there’s not much activity in your home.
At the end of it all, the key here is to maintain a certain level of self-discipline. Distractions don’t just come in the form of noise or unwanted calls. Understand what your biggest diversion is and do your best to keep away from it until you’re done with important tasks. Work hard – but play hard, too! After a long, grueling day, don’t hesitate to reward yourself to a much-deserved treat. Go home and out your feet up!
Cristina Antonio is the EIC of scoopfed.com and a writer of all things related to world news, movies, real estate, health, or social media. She’s currently focused on helping healthcare workers find better career opportunities through Locum Tenens. Cris also enjoys painting, collecting toys, reading German novels, and lurking the Web.