“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” ~ Psalm 90:12 ESV. It’s not a matter of merely counting our days, but also making our days count–investing our time wisely. With technology as it is, we experience “Constant Connectivity” which can lead to distractions, stress and burnout. Carey Nieuwhof shares 7 stupid distractions every leader should eliminate. Hopefully you will find at least one you can begin applying to get your life back.
Guest post by Carey Nieuwhof
Ever notice your day seems to vaporize and you wonder what happened to all your best intentions?
You’re ready to leave work but you barely even dented your to-do list. As a result, you’re going to have to try to justify squeezing an hour of work in once you get home, or just get up at a ridiculous hour tomorrow to try again.
Not only is that pattern unsustainable, it’s mysterious. You try not to have it happen again, but it does anyway.
So…what causes that?
At the root of it is likely repeated patterns and behaviors.
There’s also another problem more leaders struggle with than ever before, and that’s distraction.
Some research has discovered that workers get interrupted as often as every 11 minutes during the workday, and it takes 25 minutes to refocus after each interruption. The math doesn’t even exactly add up, but you get the point. That’s why it feels impossible to get anything done.
Here are 7 stupid things that interrupt your day that simply don’t need to.
Get rid of these distractions today and you’ll have a better tomorrow.
1. Push Notifications
Every single app in the world begins its relationship with you by asking, “Allow Push Notifications?”
Your automatic answer as a leader should be No. Every single time (except one…I tell you which exception I think you should make below).
You don’t really need to know every time someone sends you an email. Similarly, it’s useless to be notified every time someone comments on your Instagram.
Why? Well, think of push notifications as someone tapping you on the shoulder. If someone tapped you on the shoulder somewhere between 30-300 times a day every day, you would either punch them or get a restraining order.
Every time your phone vibrates, that’s what’s happening.
And don’t think the people you’re in real life conversation with aren’t bothered by your constantly buzzing phone and your incessant need to check your screen. It’s hard to respect or follow a distracted leader.
Being busy isn’t a sign of respect anymore. It’s a sign you’re not managing your time or priorities well.
I disabled push notifications on my phone and turned on the Do Not Disturb feature on my devices a few years ago. I don’t miss the constant buzzing at all. Nor do my friends and family.
Instant notifications about your messages aren’t that important.
Actually, I’m not actually that important. And, with all due respect, neither are you.
2. Text Messages
You’re probably thinking, I get the part about not getting notifications about Instagram, but come on, text messages? Miss those, too?
Here’s what I’ve done with my text messages. Before I tell you, know that I do not give out my cell number freely. Not a lot of people have it. Even then, I don’t want to be a slave to it.
So, I allow push notifications for text messages, but I keep my phone on Do Not Disturb, which means I don’t feel them or hear them.
When I’m ready to take a break, I pull out my phone and do a quick check. That way they don’t interrupt me.
But wait, you argue. I can’t miss any text messages. What about my wife and my kids? What about my super important projects?
First, remember when you were a kid? Your parents had no idea where you were, and after a few hours, they’d call the neighbors. You survived. So did they.
Ditto with work. People used to get work done at work. Remember those days? Now you don’t get any work done at work, and constant interruption is one of the reasons.
What’s happened is you’ve confused importance with urgency. Texts may be important, but mostly they’re not that urgent if you’re going to look at your phone every hour anyway.
But wait, you say, what’s if it’s a true emergency?
Well, if you’re waiting for a new kidney and the doctor is texting you that you need to come to the hospital right this second or you lose the organ, sure…keep your phone on.
But that’s not what ruined your day last Tuesday. In fact, you can’t even remember what the texts that ruined last Tuesday were about, can you?
Nope, you can’t.
Which is why you should ignore what’s going on on your phone until you’re ready to take a break.
The planet will keep spinning. I promise you.
And you will get more done.
3. Your Idle Curiosity
The challenge of working in an online environment is that the world is literally at your fingertips.
The distractions are a click or tap away. It takes tremendous self-discipline not to go down the rabbit-hole of the internet, from social media to mindless Googling things that really don’t matter (like the surface area of the sun or who invented the straight-razor).
Curiosity is a great thing, but idle curiosity that produces nothing…not so much.
We blame our office environment, co-workers, endless email, or whatever. But eliminate all those things, and you still have you to contend with.
I don’t need an enemy. I have one. It’s a perpetually distracted me.
You don’t need an enemy. You have one. It’s a perpetually distracted you.
4. Inefficient Email
Turning off push notifications is a great start, but it won’t solve all your problems.
Try changing your email practices from ‘always checking all the time’ (which is the default for almost all of us) to tiny pockets where you check it at different points in the day.
For example, try doing a small 15-minute window in the morning to make sure nothing’s on fire. 95% of the time, things aren’t on fire.
Then come back to email at a set time later in the day and pound through it. Do it when your energy is a little lower, and spend your best energy instead on the tasks that are most important to you that day.
That way when you get home, you’ll have accomplished something significant and not spent your time on things that matter less.
The less time you spend on email, the less it will consume you.
Second, don’t manage or lead by email.
Here’s how it happens to most leaders. Someone thinks of an issue, so they send an email. Someone adds a thought, and they reply all.
A conversation that might take 5 minutes in person (or less) drags on a through a series of useless replies that go on for days.
We’ve adopted some practices on my team that have helped.
First, don’t email people about everything. If you have an issue that could be just as easily handled by phone or in person, park it on a list (use something like Asana or Wunderlist to keep track).
Then, once you have a list of 5-15 items, do a simple 15-minute check-in phone meeting or stand-up meeting in person to handle them all. You’ll be way more efficient.
Similarly, if a direct report emails me something that’s not urgent, I’ll just ask them to wait until our weekly meeting with it. It can almost always wait.
If it’s truly urgent and there will be a lot of back and forth, pick up and phone and call or do a quick text exchange. People are always shorter on text than on email.
Not everything is urgent, so don’t treat it like it is.
5. Too Many Meetings
We live in meetings, and our productivity dies in them. Meetings are a huge distraction in a world where leaders often simply need to get work done.
If I’m not careful, I can spend three-quarters of my week in meetings and have only a few hours left over for writing messages and leading what matters most.
Meetings expand to fill the time you’ve set aside for them. So just set aside less time.
6. An Open Schedule
Chance are you only write appointments with others and meetings in your schedule, right?
Make appointments with yourself. Write in writing time, thinking time, date nights with your spouse, family time —everything you need to get done.
Then when someone asks to meet, you can say you have a commitment. If it’s truly important, schedule them in during your next available slot.
An open schedule is a guarantee you’ll spend your time on everyone else’s priorities, not yours.
Conversely, a fixed calendar can fix your life.
7. Conversations with a purpose
Conversations can waste tons of time. And they happen all the time to leaders.
Sometimes you feel trapped in one.
What do you do when someone corners you?
Be pleasant and move on. You’ve got work to do.
Turn that 20-minute conversation into a two-minute conversation. Be pleasant, thank them and if need be, tell them you were on your way to get something done. Then go do it.
If you work in an actual office, close the door or put a sign on the door that you’re doing focused work.
If you’re in an open office, you can even devise a signal with co-workers that lets them know you’re not free to chat. I’ve seen leaders put a small orange traffic cone or another kind of marker on their desk that effectively says “do not disturb.”
If you can shut down meaningless conversations, you’ll ramp up your productivity.