Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How To Be Productive, Distraction Free, and Still Sociable

Staying productive

For many years, close friends have shared their complaints about how difficult it is to get up with me. They said that if they call, they get no answer. If they write, they don't get a response. With all of the means of communication available (Facebook, SMS, mobile, messenger, email, etc.), I am far too elusive. Have you ever heard that? If not, maybe you're on the other side of the same coin, maybe you're too accessible.

If I were to look at it from their perspective, I totally understand why many feel the way that they do. It's because I guard myself from distractions. If I'm going to get anything done, I have to turn off the phone (or at least mute it), get off Facebook, close my email, turn off notifications, and simply disconnect from the world around me.

There are some who believe this crazy. "What if there was an emergency?" I can hear someone ask. "What about being responsive?" asks another.

While I understand the concern, I have found that I am far less productive when I am running around completing everyone else's request before my own. Most often, putting out fires keeps me moving, but it doesn't produce the results I'm looking for.

Insane Productivity

 As of this 2016 update, I am currently going through Darren Hardy's Insane Productivity program where he talks about focusing on those few things that matter most.

What 3-5 things would dramatically change our lives if we set our minds to them and ultimately achieved them? Would it be more money, better health, seeing the world, stronger relationships, or maybe an advancement in our careers?

The reality is simple. If we want to achieve our goals, we have to spend time each day working toward them. This means cutting off distractions and allowing ourselves the time to move the ball down the field.

If this strategy works for Darren, who is an author of multiple best-selling books, speaker, entrepreneur, and publisher for a renowned magazine (Success), then it definitely is good enough for me. (...and you, too!)

Tips for Cutting Distractions

It doesn't matter if you're already hyper focused or just trying to start a new habit, the following list provides some actionable things you can do today to remove the distractions from your life, be productive, and still feel connected with the world.

Schedule time on the calendar

While avoiding distractions is important for getting things done, one must also remember that we are social creatures and we need to interact with others. Schedule your day to provide uninterrupted time with your goal chasing tasks, but don't forget to also block time for friends, family, coworkers, and employees. To ensure that you do, put a date on the calendar and invite someone to share that time with you.

Use down time to connect

Identify when you have unencumbered time and use it to connect with others. Earlier, I noticed that I have down time while commuting in the morning and afternoons. For me, that's around two hours per day that I could use to talk with people.  I also find meals are conducive to engaging dialog. Why not invite a friend to breakfast, lunch, or dinner?

Invest 5 minutes

Not every encounter needs to dominate your day. Sometimes a brief "hello" will suffice. Consider strengthening your relationship with a quick 5-minute visit, telephone call, e-mail, text message, or direct message (preferably in that order). 

Respond in a timely fashion

Maintaining control over your time is a crucial part of being productive. This means removing all distractions and focusing intently on the task at hand. However, when you come up for air, respond to people. This means returning phone calls, emails, text messages, and tweets. While you may not have time to engage in a deep conversation, you can inform them when there is a more appropriate time.

Some suggest answering phone calls, emails, and other messages immediately, but I prefer time boxing these kinds of tasks when time permits. If it's important, they will leave a message and I'll get back with them at my convenience. 

Excuse yourself

One of the hardest things for me to do is to tell people "No!" I'm the guy who will listen to you for as long as you continue to talk. I don't like to be rude nor rush people when they're passionate about something. However, there are many times when I have things to finish but allow someone to eat into my time, which may explain why I avoid engaging in the first place. If this is you too, then the best thing to do is learn how to excuse yourself.

For me, this means being flexible and attentive to people, but ending a conversation when you have to end it. The easiest thing to do is leave because you have "another appointment." This appointment can be with someone else or a self-imposed task. Whatever the situation, consider the "appointment" as a way to end a good thing.

One suggestion Darren shared was to leave your office and find a quiet place where you can be alone without distractions. This allows you to completely avoid last minute visitors or phone calls.

Another suggestion is to say the following, "Listen, Gina, I really want to continue our conversation about widgets, but I need to finish this report before the deadline. Can we schedule some time to continue where we left off? How does tomorrow at 2 pm look for you?" Simple, right?

Additional Thoughts

Take a break...It's OK!

While today's post talked about how to cut distractions and be productive through focused effort, it's important that we also take a break. Much like an athlete that runs sprints, they desperately need time to rest and catch their breath. So it is with us and productivity. During our intense sessions of uninterrupted grind, we shut everything else off. When we're done, it's perfectly OK to reconnect with the world around you. You'll be far more productive if you do. 

Airplane Mode

Earlier today, I posed the following question online, "What should you turn off or stop doing to become more productive today?" Common responses included Facebook, social media, and their phone as the evil culprit. One great idea that I heard from Darren Hardy was to put our phones into airplane mode. Once activated, the phone no longer serves us text messages, Facebook updates, or telephone calls (just make sure to turn off the wi-fi, too).

You are the master of your fate

As I mentioned earlier, you can either run around being busy and get a bunch of low value tasks marked done OR you can focus entirely on knocking out high value tasks that will ultimately bring you much larger reward. The choice is yours because you are the master of your fate. Decide today that achieving YOUR goals is more important than completing other people's agenda items.

Note: Please don't tell your boss that you REFUSE to do any work they assign because you have more "important" things to do. What I will say is make YOUR goals a priority and knock them off your to-do list before you do things like check email and voicemail, where many fires originate. 

Next Steps

I hope you found some value in this post. If so, I would love to hear your thoughts below in the comment section. What other suggestions would you add? What will you apply first in your life?

Who do you know that could benefit from this information? Please feel free to share this with them.

P.S. You like this kind of information? Don't miss a single post! Subscribe to my newsletter and I'll deliver more content like this directly to you. 


This post was originally published on April 12, 2011 and updated again with new information November 21, 2016. 

Photo credit: wandërlust∞


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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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