4 Tips to Turn Off the Distractions

UPDATED: October 28, 2014
PUBLISHED: October 28, 2014

Think the grass is greener on the other side of your attention? Think again. The more you tolerate distractions, the more difficult it is to deliver timely and quality output in business.

But maybe you think of your distractions as multitasking. That’s really a myth, according to a recent article published by The New Yorker

More than 20 years of research by Dr. David E. Meyer, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and one of the world’s leading experts on multitasking, reveals that “when you think you’re doing two things at once, you’re almost always switching rapidly between them, leaking a little mental efficiency with every switch.” Bet you thought you were really doing more with less, right? Wrong.

Cope with distractions and increase productivity with these four tips:

1. Raise your standards and take control. The same kind of thinking that tethered you to distractions won’t help you to avoid them. This means you must change the way you think about time, value and results. Make them first priorities, not afterthoughts. 

Remember that no distraction is worth compromising your integrity, professional reputation or the bottom line. In the end, only your results matter. Excuses won’t.

2. Anticipate the kinds of distractions likely to sidetrack you. Make a list. For example, if you know that constantly checking email will usurp two hours of your day—write that down first—it's a key distraction to avoid. Pick one 15-minute block later in the day to scan your inbox and stick to it. Don’t respond to your email until after crunch time is over, when time is on your side.

Can’t resist incessantly checking your Facebook feed for updates? Don’t fall for the head fake: It won’t give you a second wind. It’ll only increase your commitment to being distracted. Use Facebook to completely decompress after you’ve completed your tasks. Don’t log in until you can unplug.

If you know that Chatty Cathy comes in every Monday morning to regale you with her weekend shenanigans, be prepared to put your foot down. Advise that while you’d love to hear about her incredible weekend, you have some important things to accomplish first. Be polite, but firm.

3. Plan, commit and execute. If you want to successfully avoid distractions, you can’t tackle them haphazardly. You’ll need a solid plan of attack.

Prepare your plan in advance—in writing. It should include a list of key distractions, strategies for avoiding them and a plan for confronting ones that can't be avoided. Be thoughtful in your approach. Brainstorm tough scenarios. Role-play to increase your comfort level. Review your plan first thing in the morning. Focus on outcomes and strategies before you do anything else.

Think you’re all done? Not so fast. Drafting a great plan is not enough to inspire productivity. You need to take action. Commit to playing full-out and successfully accomplishing the goal, no matter what. Encourage yourself to do the heavy lifting. Exercise discipline and be prepared to dig your heels in. The trenches are where the real work begins.

4. Cultivate sensory acuity. Just because you create a plan—even a really good one—doesn’t mean that it’s going to work. Therefore, learn to cultivate sensory acuity by paying closer attention to the results you’re getting. Ask yourself whether you’re moving closer or farther away from your goal based on your efforts. Be honest. It’s the only way you’ll learn to connect the dots. 

Sensory acuity is a muscle like any other. It becomes stronger with increased use. By sharpening your analytical skills and becoming “acutely aware,” you’ll learn to detect the devil in the details. And, believe me, high performers are intimately acquainted with the devil in the details.

Key takeaways: Coping with distractions can be challenging. But don’t be afraid to confront and overcome them. You have the power to stand up to people, situations and ideas that wreak havoc on your productivity.

Choose to be more productive and embrace productivity for the long haul.

Read the confessions of a recovering multitasker—and why single-tasking should be the new multitasking. 

A leading authority on leadership development and organizational performance management, Karima Mariama-Arthur brings more than 25 years of comprehensive, blue chip experience in law, business and academia to every client engagement. A shrewd advisor to distinguished organizations from DC to Dubai, her expert insights help clients to successfully navigate today's ever-changing and competitive global business environment. Karima is the author of the internationally acclaimed and 2019 NAACP Image Award nominated leadership guidebook, Poised For Excellence: Fundamental Principles of Effective Leadership in the Boardroom and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan), which launched at the United States Military Academy at West Point. As an extension of her work, she speaks regularly both nationally and internationally in her areas of expertise and serves in an advisory capacity on select corporate boards.