How to Get Stuff Done When You’re Distracted for Some Reason
If you’re reading this on November 8, 2016 and you’re in the United States, it’s possible that you’re not at your best today. This is true no matter which candidate you support. Heck, if you work with other people, you might be a bit distracted even if you don’t care about politics in the slightest. It’s hard to be productive, when everyone around you is running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, or else staring into space like a zombie.
Of course, the difference between work and play is that you have to work even when you don’t feel like it. Your boss doesn’t care if the poll numbers are bad for your candidate of choice. He or she would also prefer it if you didn’t spend the whole day refreshing FiveThirtyEight or The Upshot. Work needs to happen, even if your heart’s not in it.
The question then is: how do you force productivity, when you’d rather be anywhere else but at work? There’s no surefire cure, but these tricks can help:
- Work on something you love.
Every to-do list contains both items that make us cringe and those we’d put at the top of the list, if we had total control. Often, those latter items aren’t first priority — they’re just fun.
Today, use your distraction as an excuse to focus on the stuff you actually enjoy about your job. If the alternative is making no progress at all, it’s easier to defend your decision to spend the day working on the tasks you love the most.
- Choose a mindless task.
On the other end of the spectrum from the projects you love the most: housekeeping. Today might be the perfect day to answer emails, return phone calls, or perfect that spreadsheet. It’s not exciting, but it’s necessary work, and you’ll be glad it’s out of the way when you’re feeling better.
- Give yourself rewards.
Send 10 emails — get a cup of coffee. Work for an hour straight without checking social media — earn a five-minute binge. (Dole those out sparingly, though. See the last item on our list). It’s OK to bribe yourself to be more productive on tough days. Just remember that the best rewards get you closer to your goals, not farther away from them, and resist the urge to sabotage with treats you’ll regret.
- Work in sprints.
It’s easy to get discouraged if you look at your day in terms of continuous hours of work — so don’t. Instead, break up your day into blocks on time, and work in sprints of 15 minutes to an hour.
- Batch tasks.
“Multi-tasking is a lie,” writes Adam Lehman at The Wonder Jam. “Yes, a simple graphic MAY only take 7 minutes to create, but what is it interrupting? That interruption costs you anywhere between 15-45 minutes depending on what research you read. The point is this: switching between dis-similar tasks acts like a multiplier for interruptions.”
Instead, Lehman suggests batching similar tasks together, and working on them continuously without interruption (e.g., checking email). See his routine, here, for inspiration.
- Protect your time.
If your office or workspace is crazy today, you might need to run for it in order to get stuff done. That could mean hunkering down in a disused conference room or taking your laptop to a coffee shop, depending on company policy. It’s also OK to extricate yourself from conversation with a coworker who’s going on about non-work topics. Be polite, but feel no compunction about drawing a line.
- Avoid social media.
When the outside world is distracting, sometimes the best option is to disconnect. If your job doesn’t require you to be on social media, take the rest of the day off. It’s easy to fall into a loop, refreshing feeds over and over again, but odds are that you’re not learning much for the energy you’re expending. Park your FOMO for an afternoon and turn your attention to getting a few things done around the office instead.
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