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5 Ways to Manage Distractions

Posted by: In: Uncategorized 01 Nov 2012 Comments: 0

They cost much more than you think.

Distractions, and especially the most serious of distractions, the dreaded “interruption” cost us tremendously.  Various studies come to the same conclusion — when we’re interrupted, it takes several minutes to get back to the same level of focus and concentration.  Depending on the study, I have read that from 6 to 25 minutes of time is lost with each interruption.  Even using the 6 minute stat, simple math dictates that if you are working on something requiring at least a moderate level of focus (which applies to most of our roles), and get interrupted or distracted just 5 times in an hour, you are working at 50% productivity!  Simply losing 10 minutes per day to interruptions equals a full workweek per year of lost time.


For salespeople, this directly affects your earnings and for managers, your department’s results.  And what we’re talking about as an interruption can be something that seems very minor.  Simply shifting your attention for a moment to look at an email or text can be just as damaging as a phone call or having someone walk into your office.  The problem is that your brain can only focus on one thing at one time and it takes a startup period to get your brain up to speed when working on something.  Some people call this getting into the “zone.”  I bet you can think of a time when you were trying to get something important completed and how it took much longer because of interruptions.  The writing of these articles is a good example for myself.  If I am in a place of visual or aural interruptions (like at home with my 2 small children), not only will articles will take me 2 to 3 times longer to write but the quality will also suffer.


Here are some simple ways to help manage distractions and boost your productivity while reducing your stress level.


1) Establish Focus Times: Some tasks require considerably more focus than others.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a way to let others know that you’re in the middle of something and would prefer not to be interrupted until you’re done?  There are a few ways of doing this but one of the best and simplest I’ve seen is the “cone” method where you put an orange sports pylon outside your workstation or door.  


Naturally, the meaning of the cone needs to be communicated internally and is usually best rolled out as a department wide system.  Let people know that if there is something truly urgent, like the building being on fire, that you can be interrupted.  I have found that 95% of people will follow the rules.  You might have to help the other 5% understand what is urgent and what is not!  


I constantly receive comments from clients on how well this system works but don’t overuse it or it will lose its effectiveness.  Reserve it for the times when you really need to focus.


2) Turn off email alerts and commit to checking it at the most minimal level you feel is possible for your particular role without having a negative impact on service. For most salespeople, your inbound emails are probably important but still don’t need attention for at least an hour (if not longer). Be honest with yourself and set your frequency so everyone wins. If you can set only two or three specific times a day to respond to email, do it. You might want to put in your signature line what your response time is on emails to give people options (e.g., “I usually check my email four times daily. If you need me immediately, please call my cell/ assistant/ office line.).”  Sometimes we receive pushback on this idea from reps claiming “We need to get back to people by email immediately.”  A healthy analysis of past emails usually reveals that very few can’t wait for a reasonable amount of time.  Think of how it hurts your sales and service when you can’t get certain tasks done because you are jumping up every time an email comes in!


3) Text less: It amazes me how some people carry on two-way conversations through texting for extended periods of time when a simple phone call would have worked.  It seems some people have developed serious allergies to hearing a human voice.  Just think of how many texts need to be sent and received just to set up a simple lunch.  Your phone buzzes . . . “Would you like to go for lunch today?”  You type out, “Sounds great (smiley face)” 30 seconds pass and you’re just getting back to what you were working on. . . . “Where?”  You pick up your phone and shoot back, “I don’t know.  I’m easy”  2 minutes goes by.  “How about the Thai place on First Street?”  1 more minute goes by “I just ate there last week.”  “NP.  How about the Italian place?”  “Which one? There are 2 good ones.”  “Rocco’s?  They have great pizza.”  “Oh, I forgot to tell you about my new gluten free diet.  Maybe I’ll skip pizza.”


You’ve just spent the last 15 minutes figuring out where to go for lunch but nothing else got done.  A 1 minute phone call would have cleared it all up and allowed you to spend 14 minutes on something that’s actually going to make you money!


4) Cut down on chit chat:  I’m not suggesting that we all become social introverts but even a quick conversation on last night’s hockey game eats away at your concentration and again, causes your brain to have to switch back and forth.  I know of one outside salesperson named Cooper who works for an industrial sales firm and has learned first hand the cost of too much small talk.  This company provides counter sales where contractors can come in, order supplies and wait while the merchandise is picked from the warehouse.  Unfortunately, Cooper’s desk was located right beside the counter and when a contractor was waiting for his order to be filled, he was an easy target to chat with.  After completing Northbound’s “Goal Aligned Time” workshop, Cooper started tracking how much time he lost from these daily interruptions and not surprisingly, it ended up being over an hour per day.  Smartly, Cooper explained this to his manager and now has a private office allowing him to get 6 more workweeks of sales activities done per year.


5) No web surfing during your “money time”:  The internet can be like quicksand — once you take one step in, you can’t get out.  As a sales professional, you need to be focussed on doing sales activities involving your customers during business hours.  Save the web stuff for later.


To learn dozens of other powerful time management strategies, enquire about our “Goal Aligned Time” workshop for you or your team.


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