Once, after a loss, former Tennessee Titans’ coach Jeff Fisher made this statement to the media about his team’s effort:
“I think you have to be able to deal with distractions, put them in perspective and move on. Distractions are the primary reason for losing football games. ”
He didn’t chalk up the loss to a poor planning, a bad strategy, or lack of effort. He pinned the losing effort on distractions.
There are a lot of parallels between professional football players and content marketers (sans the concern over injuries – except for maybe Carpal tunnel syndrome). Certainly, this theory applies to both: We don’t get derailed from success because we’re not smart enough, strong enough, or don’t put in enough effort. We fail because we get distracted.
We’re Inundated With Distractions
Let’s be honest, if you’ve even read this far, you probably stopped at least once to answer a blinking IM, check another tab in your browser, answer the phone, glance up at the TV (if you’re lucky) or stopped to order a pumpkin spice latte (I know I did). The truth is: we’re inundated with distractions.
We may know the best practices, we may be aware of how to use the tools, and we may have a firm understanding of how to achieve our goals. But sometimes we can’t seem to gain traction putting it all together and getting there.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
… Spend 10 minutes looking at what people are posting on Twitter, click a link, read half-way through the article, get reminded by an item in the article of an email we meant to write, open Outlook to write the email, see a handful of new emails that require responses, open them to quickly respond, realize the response requires finding a document on the server, look for that document, see a study you squirreled away on the server for another project you were working on, open it up, print it out, walk down the hall to the printer and decide you want coffee, go get coffee, get into a conversation with a colleague about another project, end up walking back to your desk 15 minutes later and wondering why you had Twitter open in the first place …
OK, it may be a bit exaggerated, but this type of distraction snowball effect happens all the time. To smart people. To talented people. To people who understand the goals and have the ability to achieve them.
They simply got too distracted along the way.
Focus is the Kryptonite of Distraction
Being less distracted is easier said than done, and it is a constant challenge. I’m not saying you need to silo yourself from the rest of the world and do one thing at a time, but truly using your brain for one task at a time will be a step in the right direction. Here are some of my tips for eliminating distraction:
Budget your time: Feel like you’re checking email every 32 seconds (or every time a notification box pops up)? It’s because you are. Imagine this: turn off Outlook for 45 minutes out of every hour and watch your productivity improve.
It might seem counterintuitive, and you may fear that people think you are an unresponsive jerk by not instantly replying to emails, but how many emails are truly emergencies? And how many emergencies don’t also present themselves as phone calls?
Besides, how many times do you open a new email just to look at it and not respond (i.e. “I’ll save this for later)? Allowing yourself only 15 minutes per hour to respond to email will force you to be decisive when you actually get into the inbox. You can apply this logic to any ongoing task you like.
Create a personal rewards system: Getting up every time you get a craving for coffee, a snack, or socialization can be detrimental to your flow of thought. Allow yourself to enjoy one of the aforementioned, of course, but only after you complete a task – or a sizeable chunk of it. You’ll be motivated to get the work done faster, and you’ll not feel as guilty once you finally cave to your craving.
Trust curators (much of the time): We don’t have enough time to manage our inbox half the time, how would we have time to scour the web for every nugget that is important to our work? Sometimes finding good sources of content curation (ones you’ve vetted and can trust) can help you do less sifting, and more focusing. (But don’t trust them blindly, set aside time each week to discover things on your own and to … have fun online.)
Smarter people have better tips on being less distracted, so budget some time to go out and find them and please, feel free to share your tips in the comments.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get some coffee.[image: vitroids]