The devil is in the…distractions

It is often said that “the devil is in the details”, suggesting that execution is fraught with challenges once you actually get started. However, when you think about how many relatively simple things we fail to do consistently, are details really the problem? It seems the devil is also in the distractions. Here are a few tips for staying focused.

Time and again, we are hearing about just how busy and overwhelmed people have become. Perhaps it is the average 105 emails people receive per day (try twice that or more if you are like so many people I know).

Perhaps it is one of the 30 billion pieces of new content shared on Facebook each month. Perhaps you’ve just downloaded one of the 20 million apps that get downloaded each day.

Distractions are EVERYWHERE.

And when you think about the fact that distractions are one of the top reasons we don’t create a plan or stick to it each day, perhaps it’s not such a far-fetched statement to think that the devil really is in those distractions. After all, why else aren’t you staying focused and consistent?

If you want to achieve your potential for greatness, you need to start with a clear idea of what your personal version of greatness looks like. Translate the vision into behaviors that represent what you look like when you are on your path to greatness. Great start! Now, what about those distractions?

Here are a few simple ways to execute your way around those pesky, devilish distractions:

1. Plan. Yes this is old-school, but no one outgrows planning. Spend some time prior to the start of your week and block time on your calendar for your most important work. Don’t just prioritize your schedule. Schedule your priorities. I also suggest setting aside some “quiet time” for prayer or meditation. You are less likely to be distracted when you are getting the message directly from the source.

2. Be realistic. If you line up more work or bigger goals than you have ever achieved before, don’t be surprised when you fail to achieve them. Set goals that you can realistically hit. Knowing that you can (and previously have) hit your targets in the time available should help you stay focused, because you realize there is no time to lose.

3. Pace yourself. If you fall asleep when you sit and read or get bored staring at the computer screen like I do, don’t expect yourself to take on super-human abilities just because you got a bit more focused with your time. Pace yourself. Take periodic breaks. Don’t schedule all 8-12 hours in the day. Think about it this way: “How much greater impact would you have if you dedicated even just 10 hours each week to that big meaningful marketing opportunity? …leadership dilemma? …HR challenge?”

4. Use batch mode. Rather than respond to emails, phone calls, or internal paperwork as it comes to you, group several items into a “batch”, and knock them out in an efficient burst of efforts. Then refocus back on the subject at hand.

5. Block distractions. If email is a common problem, don’t open it. A growing inbox is a painful reminder that people want your input, a pain you may yield your attention to instead of staying focused. So, leave it closed for at least an hour at a time. Don’t have the will power to leave it closed? Free web-based tools can block your internet connection, social media sites, or email and calendar notifications.

6. Try rewards. Silly perhaps, but the mind still responds to rewards. Consider offering yourself something extra for dinner, a little fun time with your spouse or kids, or even a little spending money when you get something important done…or even when you just complete a small task.  Try putting $5 in an envelope each time you do something hard…when it hits $250, spend it on something meaningful to you or someone you love.

When you’ve dealt with your distractions proactively, you’ve formulated a strong plan for using your strengths, and you have aligned yourself with meaningful goals, don’t be surprised when the pace of change accelerates. Now you are equipped to stick with it!