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Coach's Corner--February 11, 2008

Driven to distraction at work? Some tips on how to take a new route

The Client
Name: Nick
Age: 53
Title: Project manager
Years in business: 32 (six in current role)
Industry: Health care
Issue: Building structure and managing distractions

Q: I really like my job and the kind of work I do, but I'm undisciplined when it comes to creating structure and following routine. (It doesn't help that I work in a cube farm and am a sitting duck for interruptions and distractions.) As a result, I often lose track of things I'm supposed to do and find myself scrambling at the last minute. Any ideas about how to build more disciplined work habits?

A: It sounds as if you're caught in the habit of letting your agenda be set by whatever happens around you. To successfully move beyond this, focus first on your personal motivation, and then create a plan to change your habits.

The inner game
Let's start with the fundamental, and most difficult, question. Since actions reflect intentions, ask yourself, "Why is distraction attracting me more than structure?" There are many possible drivers - inner resistance to success or a feeling that organization stifles creativity. You may be hooked on the adrenaline rush. If inner factors like these are at play, recognize and address them before you try to build new organizational habits.

The outer game
Start with the goal of building your ability to focus. Bring all of your concentration toward any task you're doing. When you notice yourself drifting away, bring yourself back to the task. This will require diligent practice, but soon you'll find that you are completing tasks with fewer distractions.

In practical terms, three simple steps will help you become more productive: understanding your current situation, identifying options, and deciding what you are willing to do.

Step 1: Know your situation. Common threats to managing time include e-mail, people, lack of planning and chaotic workspaces. Determine which is causing you to lose the most time, and set it as your top priority.

Step 2: Define your options. When you identify options for action, you take control of the situation.

  • If drop-by social visits are a major disruption, find friendly but firm ways to slow the parade. If the visits are work-related, talk to your colleagues about less distracting ways to share information. And let people know that you are consciously trying to improve and seek their support.
  • To control e-mail, consider checking it only at predetermined intervals - say, once per hour. You can still be responsive, but will no longer be taken off task.
  • If you have lost track of what you need to get done, create a task list and build a plan. Take five minutes each day to figure out what you need to accomplish.

Step 3: Decide what you are willing to do. This comes down to your motivation to change. Set realistic goals, find people to support you, and plan how you'll hold yourself accountable and celebrate success.

The last word
Overcoming distractions results from countless in-the-moment decisions to stay focused. Recognize that you are developing new habits, enlist others to help, and be ready to free up energy to get more things done well.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted February 11, 2008
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Comments and Responses (0) Post a comment

  [below viewing threshold (-13.0), show comment]Liz (February 26, 2008 8:23:30 AM)