6 Steps to Avoid Getting Sidetracked

Imagine you are on a roll, making real progress on a task or project. All of a sudden, the phone rings, an e-mail alarm goes off, a colleague asks for a favor, your mother-in-law drops by on the “spur of the moment,” you’re called to school to pick up a sick child, etc. Uh oh, sidetracked again!

It is estimated that the average adult is interrupted 73 times per day – and that’s just at work. Add family, friends, and children to the mix and you can easily double that number.

It may seem obvious that interruptions will increase the time it takes to do something, but does it adversely affect the quality of your efforts too?

According to studies conducted by the researchers at George Mason University and published in the scientific journal Human Factors, the answer to that is yes, and taking extra time didn’t help participants in the study.

You Don’t Have to Let Interruptions Sidetrack You

First of all keep in mind that for all your efforts to control your time, most of the people you come in contact with during the day will have their own agenda that may or may not include consideration for your schedule.

Next time something happens to set you back, or derail your plans, first, try asking yourself if there’s a way to turn the situation into a positive. Otherwise, take a look at your schedule to see how you can adjust it or if there is something you can delegate.

Work out what is truly important to you. Research shows people with consistently high happiness scores prioritize their life according to things they value. They’ve worked out what is most important to them and don’t allow themselves to get sidetracked. ~Robert Holden

Plan Ahead to Avoid Getting Sidetracked

Time is a one-way street. If you don’t value yourself, you won’t value your time and in nearly every instance situations that drain your energy and focus can be overcome by setting a few basic boundaries.

  • Own your interruptions. Try to think of an interruption as an offer, and your decision as to whether you will take the interruption as a counter-offer. It is okay to say “Thanks for your call/visit. I do want to speak with you but now is not a good time. Can we talk/meet at 2:00 p.m. instead?” There. You just counter-offered.
  • Learn to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty. It’s easy to get caught off guard with unexpected requests for favors or projects, so learning effective ‘delay’ tactics can prevent you from committing to something in order to get back to what you were doing. If you’re not sure whether you want to say no, at least avoid saying yes on the spot by telling the person you will call back after you’ve had time to check your schedule.
  • Grade your interruptions. Of course, some interruptions are more important than others. For example having to pick your sick child up from school can technically be classified as an interruption, but it is easily far more important than anything else on your task list. So while there will be occasional exceptions, it’s important to be selective and if an interruption comes in that does not make the grade, don’t take it!
  • Create do-not-disturb time. Screen calls, or set up times of the day when you answer and return calls and let that be known to friends, family and work colleagues. Limit yourself to the number of times you check email and social media. Utilize a “do not disturb” sign at the office when working on a tight deadline, close your office door, set “office hours” for visitors and colleagues, or go work in a conference room, library or coffee shop where you can focus.
  • Plan for interruptions. If you work in an interruption-rich environment, you can only plan out 50% of your time to allow for 50% interruptions. For example, if your job is to put out “fires” all day, you can’t avoid interruptions as they are exactly what you should be handling. But what you can do is block out time before or after typically down or slow periods.
  • Stop the interrupter. In most cases, our interruptions come from just 20% of the people we regularly come into contact with. Try to identify the frequent interrupters and start coming up with ways to cut them off before they occur.

Distractions don’t have to take over your day. With a few solid strategies, you can avoid getting sidetracked and enjoy increased productivity and efficiency.

Have any tips you can share on how you handle interruptions?



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