To avoid distraction – schedule it. To avoid being distracted by something during your workday, make the distraction itself a task to be completed that day. Do this regularly and your mind will stay “on task” because you know there will be time later to spend on whatever is distracting you.
For me, the major distraction is web browsing. With the wild world web at our fingertips, it is too easy to get distracted by an interesting tidbit that you find when looking up what version of mySQL is currently recommended by and for the RoR crowd. Browsing is not bad – in fact you need to feed your intelligence and creativity and most of the links that spawn from your initial source of needed information provide a good diet of technical, creative, humorous, and business information. What is bad is the loss of productivity that results from the urge to continue to follow links of interest. It is not that browsing is junk food. The problem is that when you are trying to complete a task is not the time to eat any type of “food”.
Before you stop reading and write this off as the former Fortune 25 manager in me talking like a productivity zealot let me clarify that this is not a managers’ call to “stop goofing off and work harder”. This is relevant to you for two reasons.
The first advantage is better estimation. When you are estimating how long a development phase or other task will take to complete, you are likely doing so with the assumption that that task is receiving continued and unbroken focus. Do not modify your estimation approach. Instead, make that assumption reality and gain both the productivity benefits of getting and staying in the zone and the scheduling benefits of more accurate estimation.
The second advantage is that it keeps your mind focussed on a single task and avoids the need to switch gears. Volumes of research have shown how much time it takes to get your mind into optimal focus on a given task. Task switching prevents you from getting into the optimal focus. Task switching also breaks that focus.
Most of us have a combination of intelligence and creativity that makes it difficult not to follow the juicy links to more and more information that lead us away from our initial reason for hopping into cyberspace in the first place. Do not fight this. Instead, set aside time during the day when that is your primary task.
Try it for one week. Start each day reviewing your schedule and tasks to be completed. If whatever you find to be one of your biggest distractors is not on your schedule or to-do list then add it. Don’t avoid it – add it to the list, prioritize it appropriately, and then start your day!