5 Tips for Cutting Distractions

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Many entrepreneurs and business owners pride themselves on their ability to multi-task.  The ability to juggle seven things at once and have a jam-packed busy schedule is how most of us define whether or not we feel productive.

The problem is that it doesn't work, at least not in the long run.  While the fast pace may be exhilarating for a while, it makes the short term pretty stressful as well.  I was struck by this quote in an article on Tim Ferriss' blog earlier this year, and this same quote was also cited in the video on growing your business that I shared last week:

Unfortunately, the human mind cannot, in fact, multi-task without drastically reducing the quality of our processing . . . A recent study at The British Institute of Psychiatry showed that checking your email while performing another creative task decreases your IQ in the moment 10 points. That is the equivalent of not sleeping for 36 hours—more than twice the impact of smoking marijuana.
(emphasis mine)

Multi-tasking by checking your email while working on another creative project (say, for example, creating a wedding design proposal) takes the same mental toll as going for a day and a half without sleep!  No wonder wedding planners are stressed out and tired all of the time!

If this post is written for anyone, it is written for myself first.  I still work too much, but over the past year I have put some simple systems in place to help reduce distractions and help me focus my energy on any given project.  As you will see, most of these have to do with handling email, because taming the inbox is one aspect that never seems to end.  I still have much to do and learn in this area, but these are some of the things that have helped me thus far:

1) Almost all of my email notifications are turned off.  I no longer receive updates from Twitter or Facebook telling me someone is now following me or that I have new messages.  I check in on those areas when I log into those accounts. 

2) I no longer receive email notifications that my blogs have new comments that need to be moderated.  Turning this setting off was a huge brain break for me, and I didn't even realize how much brain space that inbox clutter was taking up until after they were gone.   Instead, I log into my moderation page on my blogging platform a few times a day (often from my phone while I am waiting before an appointment) and moderate the comments in batches.

3) All the little pop-ups or audio alerts that tell me I have a new email are also set to off.  Same for Twitter updates.  I purposefully have not installed any widgets that do a live feed of Twitter updates.  I check these in batches when I log in, either from my computer or from my phone. 

4) I set up a block schedule system similar to the one shared yesterday.  This allows me to focus on one project at a time.  I am not fully disciplined at this yet, but it has helped so much this past year that it is something I am going to continue to do in order to manage my time better.

5) I set email rules and filters for nearly everything.  If an email comes in from a bride or groom, there is a rule set in my email client to automatically tag it with a label specific for their wedding.  This label is separate from a folder and helps me file it anywhere and still be able to search easily for it later.  All google alerts skip my inbox and are sent to a special folder that I check about once a week.  I am blind copied on all emails my employees send and receive and those automatically filter to separate folders as well, and I only skim them if an issue arises or when I do a monthly quality control check.  There are several other rules in place, but having these helps ensure that when I open my inbox, the emails sitting there are content that I need to see right away. 

What tips or tricks do you use to help cut down on daily distractions? Share in the comments section!

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