I’ve been staring at this blank document for an hour and I’m just now typing out this sentence. It’s not that I have writer’s block. The reality is that between when I wanted to start writing and when I actually started writing I had a micro-moment of indecision about what I should do next.
So I checked Twitter. Then I checked my email. Then I talked with my sales guys, made a phone call, responded to a text message, did some other random stuff, and finally, I’m back to this blank document.
I wasted an hour and I’m no closer to achieving my goals for the day.
It’s a perfect example of how distractions can get you off track. We’re all susceptible to distractions. But not all distractions are bad. Some of the distractions I encountered just now were knocking out some easy tasks in our task tracking system. Within 5 minutes I was able to knock out 5 really easy tasks. But was it worth it? I did not start my day with those 5 tasks in mind. Actually, I didn’t think about them at all until I got distracted and decided to see if there were any late tasks assigned to me.
We all have distractions. Some of them are important to running your business, but most of them are not. How can you separate the distractions that actually require your attention from those that do not?
First, you should acknowledge that you, and only you, can allow distractions to derail you. You make a decision, even if it’s involuntary and reflexive, to be distracted. You are 100% in control of what you do and what distractions you allow in. This is an important point to understand.
Distractions are not in control and sucking time away from you. You are sucking time away from yourself. You are allowing it to happen.
Let me ask you this…
When you start your day, do you make a list of the things you want to accomplish? If not, then how do you even know where to start? Are you meandering through your day doing whatever gets thrown at you, or do you conduct your day with intention? If you don’t already have a destination for yourself, as far as what you want to accomplish today, tomorrow, this year, in the next 10 years, the first step is to define where you want to be when you grow up – even if you’re already grown.
If you don’t have a vision – if you don’t know where it is you’re driving to – then stop reading this article now and start figuring it out. This article is supposed to help you not get distracted from achieving your vision, but if you don’t have a vision then you’re already wasting your time.
But if you want to stop wasting time, if you want to take control of your time, if you want to achieve your goals, keep reading.
OK, so you have a vision. You know where you’re going. Great. Now let’s get you there.
How long do you think it’ll take to accomplish your goals?
Here’s a dose of truth – It is going to be so much more difficult for you to get to where you want to be than you anticipate. If you have a 10-year vision, you are going to need every single day to count towards that vision.
There is literally no time to be wasted in achieving your goals. Don’t delay another day in starting down the path because trust me, you will need every single day.
Be honest with yourself. Are you a bit lazier than you should be and you just don’t want to work that hard? Do you need more easy days than hard days? Do you think it’s “ok” to get distracted with Facebook and Twitter? If so, I have good news for you. Think of it this way… every day you shave off of reaching your long-term goals is an extra day that you can relax on the beach. If that’s your thinking – if you want to make it and then bolt – fine. Use the extra days as your motivation now to get there.
But no matter what, you need every day to count so you have to get rid of distractions.
Make a list of the top 5 tasks you want to finish today. Just five. No more. These are not little 2 minute tasks; these are significant things that get you closer to your vision.
Write them down. And I don’t mean in your phone. On a piece of paper or in a notebook. Something physical that you will carry with you. You need to be able to glance at the list without getting distracted by your phone or computer.
You also need the satisfaction of crossing those items physically off your list one at a time as you accomplish them.
Never have time to get your work done because your staff and family are pulling you in opposite directions? I get it.
But you need to make the time somehow. There’s a really easy way to do that.
Start getting up earlier. Set your alarm and get up at 5 am. It’s really that simple.
I get up at 5 am every morning. Even when I don’t think I need to. Does it suck some days? Yes. But it is my time to take care of the important tasks that aren’t urgent. It’s also my time to take care of the things that, frankly, I’d rather just not do but need to anyway.
How many times have you received a long email or financial report that you should review and you put it off until “later”? Then you put it off another day. Then another.
It happens all the time. Do you know the best time to take care of all that “later” stuff? It’s at 5 am Ironically even though 5 am is pretty early by most people’s standards, it will become ”later” by your standards.
All too often employees come into our offices with problems. Naturally, you want to help them. The problem occurs when you get sucked so deep into the problem that you end up solving it for them. When this happens there are a lot of negative side effects.
First, you’re distracted. That distraction means that you’re not getting to the work you know is important and you know that you need to get done today. Remember, you are allowing this to happen.
Second, since you took care of the problem, you rob them of their opportunity to learn how to do it themselves. Since you took that opportunity away from them, you’ve set yourself up to be interrupted yet again in the future!
Instead of taking the monkey off their back and putting on yours, help them understand the source of the problem and how they can fix it themselves. Ask questions of them. Get them to think and do it themselves so they can do it again in the future. Save yourself the headache. You do not have to solve every problem.
Now I am absolutely not saying that you should not get involved in any problem that walks through your door. If it’s truly urgent and important, get involved. But if not, teach them how to take care of it themselves.
Unless you are in digital marketing like me, you have very few legitimate reasons to be on Facebook while you are working. People use Facebook to escape their reality. But your reality is staring you in the face when you’re at work and you’ve got your Top 5 goals in front of you.
Stop screwing around at work. Would you appreciate it if one of the employees that you are paying was screwing around on Facebook? Of course you wouldn’t, so why do you allow yourself to fall into that trap? Don’t allow yourself a standard that’s lower than you hold others to!
Social media, Facebook in particular, is simply a waste of time. I know I sell those distractions for a living. Often I go into Facebook because that is a tool that we use to do our work. I will go in to look at a post that one of our folks made, or to interact with followers to try to gain more attention for my final objectives (ironically, interacting with people online IS part of my job), but I too am susceptible to getting lost down the rabbit hole of Facebook and other social media.
By the way, I hate Facebook, but I love me some Twitter. Check me out on Twitter at @iamerikjolson. But check me out on your own time – not during work hours!
When you are in a relationship, you want to be available to that person even when you’re at work. I get it. I’m a married man as well as a father and I’m the same way. I want to be reachable, but only to a certain extent.
If you do not set boundaries with your family then they will distract you all day long. Similar to employees and clients, they will bombard you with unimportant messages that can wait.
Also similar to employees and clients, you need to teach them to help themselves. You cannot be at their beck and call all day long when you’re staring down a list of your five super important tasks that are going to get you where you want to be. Nevermind a full calendar of important meetings and other responsibilities.
Set boundaries with your family for when you are working and enforce those boundaries.
It feels good to help your community but you have to find the sweet spot where you are working with them, not for them. The time that you put towards that organization is time that you are not putting towards your own company.
The problem with these board meetings is that they’re generally during core business hours. They end up being 2½ to 3 hours which means that’s time and energy you are spending to further someone else’s organization instead of your own.
If you feel overwhelmed with everything, the first thing you need to do is consider whether these board positions are right for you. However, if you feel somewhat in control and you just want more time, you can limit your board positions to one at a time.
Do not, I repeat, do not take on more than one board position at a time. You do not have the kind of time or bandwidth to pull it off. Your business and your long-term goals will be sacrificed.
Put your business first and find that balance between giving back to your community – don’t let it interfere with your main business.
If you ignore the advice about limiting your board positions then at least take the previous advice doing it on your own time. Let your wife, husband, or significant others, know that you’ll be spending personal time on a personal board position. Don’t do it instead of working. Remember, you need every waking moment of work to accomplish your goals.
I can go on and on and on about distractions.
There are way more distractions out there than I can even jot down. And frankly, I finally filled in this blank sheet of paper and I think my work here is done. I can check something off of my Top 5 list for the day.
I’ve given you several actionable tactics you can take right now to stop allowing yourself to be distracted. Are you going to take that advice or was scanning through this article just another one of the many distractions of your day?
Just remember – distractions are not happening to you. You are allowing distractions into your life. Only you can fix it.
Erik J. Olson is the Founder & CEO of Array Digital—a marketing agency that enables its clients to achieve their dreams, fulfill their missions, and impact more lives with their services.