You know that distractions at work are a productivity problem, and yet they persist. Perhaps the number of distractions you face may be growing. Let’s take a proactive approach to reducing the number of distractions and improving your productivity, starting today.

Know Your Distractions
Let’s start at the beginning. What are your distractions at work?  What are the things the impede your progress and focus?  The list may be long, but it likely starts with other people and your devices/electronics.  We’ll talk about dealing with both here but remember this too: sometimes the things you label as distractions (like people) are a huge part of your job.  Don’t lose sight of the big picture by calling everything a distraction.

Stop Multitasking!
In the search of greater productivity as people have longer to-do lists than ever, many people swear by their ability to multitask.  In fact, they believe this is the only way to survive the onslaught of work.

And they are wrong. Studies and your own experience will show that multitasking simply encourages and multiplies our distractions at work. Adding distractions is the opposite of our goal.  You will be distracted less if you know what you are working on and focus on it, before moving on to the next thing.

Turn Off Your Notifications

One way to curb your urge to multitask is to turn off the notifications on your devices. Every time you hear a ding, beep or buzz or see something pop up on your monitor your brain shifts from what it was focused on. You may say to yourself,” but I don’t check every notification right then.”  Maybe that is true, but you lose productivity even if you don’t check. Think about it this way, if you don’t check, why do you need the notifications on?

And you probably check more often than you think.

Do this observational exercise.  Watch other people for a few hours and notice what they do when their device dings.  Do you think it is hampering their productivity and focus?

Write Things Down

Have you ever been working on something and keep telling yourself you need to remember something?  If you have ever been distracted from your current task trying to keep something else in your mind there is a simple solution: write it down.

It has often been said the that palest ink is better than strongest memory, and it is true. Once something is written down, your brain can let it go and focus on the current task.

We will also reduce our distractions when we write a plan for our day, week or more. With a written plan our brain knows what is important keep us more focused.

Consider Your Environment

Some environments are filled with distractions – visual or auditory.  If you must work in these environments take as much control as possible. Perhaps you can wear noise cancelling headphones. Maybe you need to clean your desk off.  Maybe you need to move your work space to change what you see.

Once you realize that your environment can be the source of your distractions, do what you can to manage it.  I wrote a series of posts about working environment that go far beyond distractions.  You can see a summary of then (with links) here.

Turn Off Everything

I know the title promised you five ways, but this is too important to leave out.  If you want to really maximize your focus and productivity, turn everything off. Not just your notifications, but temptations.  Turn off the phone. Disconnect from the wifi or internet.  You may not be able to do this for the bulk of your day, but there maybe a time when you thinking and planning are at a premium when this could be the best possible advice.  Turn off the distractions. Close the door or put on noise cancelling headphones. Do these things consciously and you are telling your brain what you want to do – and then giving your brain a chance to work at its best for you.

Kevin Eikenberry, Chief Potential Officer, The Kevin Eikenberry Group