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I mentioned that switches are the biggest enemy of focus. These are the things that pull your attention away from your most valuable activities into a least valuable activity. Let's look at the external switches or distractions. These are the things from outside of you that grab your attention and interrupt you during your day. I'm going to discuss five of the most common switches in today's workplace and I'll give you five switchbusters to combat them. A switchbuster is something that helps to reduce or even eliminate the switch.
Let's talk about the first switch; beeps, buzzes and flashes. These are anything digital or electronic that's clamoring for your attention. It can be a voicemail notification, a text message, a ringing phone, or a flashing screen letting you know that an email message came in. All of these digital distractions can rob you of your focus, pull you away from your most valuable activities and cause you to lose large amounts of time. The first switchbuster is to, turn off these notifications.
Rather than letting technology tell you what you should be doing, create a schedule of when you're going to respond to voicemail and email. Once you have this schedule set up, it's a good idea to let other people know. For instance on your voicemail greeting, let people know the time of day when they can expect a reply. The next most common switch is what I call the dreaded double Q. It's the quick question, such as someone dropping by or calling you on the phone and saying "I've got just a quick question." While you need to respond to these questions, there's a more productive way to deal with them, than interrupting each other throughout the day.
Use a one-to-one meeting, a regularly scheduled time where you each go through your list of questions for each other. For a more detailed explanation on the agenda of the one-to-one meeting, and how to conduct one, see the Effective Meetings course here on lynda.com. The next most common switch is noise, which includes any kind of distracting noise in your work environment, such as people talking, music, industrial noises, you name it.
This random external noise can have a bigger effect on your productivity than you may realize. There are two simple switchbusters to deal with this and you can choose which one to use, depending on your personality and preferences. The switchbusters are either silence or music. You can create silence by moving to a location that's quieter, putting on headphones, or even creating white noise around you, such as a desk fan.
However, for some people music can be as effective as silence because it shuts out the other noise around them. Of course you'll want to be sure that your music isn't creating noise for the other people around you. The next switch deals with instant and text messaging. These communication methods deserve their own discussion because not only are they becoming more common, but they are also frequently used improperly. Text and instant messaging can be valuable when you're passing one piece of information to another person and the conversation will not go beyond one message.
For instance, I might text someone whom I'm meeting for lunch that I'm running five minutes late. However if I need to have a conversation back and forth with someone, that's when I should use the simple switchbuster of picking up the phone and calling. It's much faster to have a quick conversation over the phone for a back and forth exchange of information, than it is to have a protracted conversation with many separate, small interruptions.
The final switch is unique, as it deals with the necessary switches in your day. What if you operate in an interruption-driven business such as technical support or healthcare? In these situations, the best switch buster may surprise you. It is to schedule less in your day, I'll explain. If my day is packed full and there's no breathing room between appointments. When unnecessary interruption comes in, I'm going to be tempted to multitask.
Remember multitasking causes me, to actually get less done, make more mistakes and increase my stress levels. It's better to leave lots of space between my scheduled activities in the day. Than when interruptions come, I can temporarily delay the activities I've scheduled for myself and do them after the necessary interruption is handled. Use these five switchbusters and any others you can think of to increase your focus.
Remember it's impossible to completely eliminate the external switches. But the more you can reduce these switches, the more focused you can be on your most valuable activities.
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