Merge's Blog

Leaders, how do you minimize distractions?

CyclingThe topic of how to minimize distractions to maximize productivity came up again this past weekend.  My husband, an avid cyclist, rides his bicycle to work daily (at least while the weather is still cooperating).  Recently, he moved offices, and so his daily cycling route has changed.  Even though almost his entire journey is on bicycle trails, the path itself is quite serpentine, twisting and winding its way through tree groves and up and down many small hills.  In a passing comment to me this last weekend, he said “I find that I can’t really enjoy the view on my bike rides anymore because I need to concentrate and pay attention to the path.  A couple of times I’ve been distracted by birds or squirrels in my peripheral vision, and I found myself almost veering off the trail and into the brush.  This is not a straightforward pathway, so I have to really stay focused on what is ahead of me, otherwise I run the risk of getting into trouble.”

His comment about getting distracted by birds and squirrels got me thinking about how often we lose focus at work by the well-known (and notorious) “squirrel”. Whether it’s minor side-issues, unimportant paperwork, gossip at the water cooler, or surfing the Internet, sometimes it’s far too easy to deviate from the pathway and get distracted by things in our peripheral vision.  Yet if the path is convoluted and complex (as many work issues are), then it’s even more critical to stay focused on what is ahead, and deliberately avoid whatever is happening on the periphery.  Otherwise we run the risk of veering off the trail.  My personal experience though that staying focused when there are so many squirrels and birds around is easier said than done!

So what do you do to stay focused when on a twisted or convoluted path?  One approach that works really well for me is to schedule a specific amount of time to work on the important task.  I find that when I set aside one hour, for example, to deal explicitly with the issue at hand, I am much less likely to get distracted by the many “squirrels” in my workplace.  That’s my go-to-approach, but what do you do?  Please share by adding your comment below.

P.S. this isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about squirrels and birds.  See A lesson from three birds and a squirrel that I wrote in 2009!

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