Manage Your Distractions

Be Productive – Manage Your Distractions consultant Moira Dunne features again as Expert Adviser on the Microsoft blog. This month she gives advice on how to Be Productive – Manage Your Distractions. Click here to read the full article:

ManagE your Distractions

As a business owner you value every minute of every day and you know how to get things done. You can respond quickly to customer requests and solve new problems as they arise.

Today’s technology really helps us achieve this. Who could have imagined the flexibility we would possess in a small device that can fit in our pockets. So our working lives have changed but have we changed how we work to reflect this? How can we manage distractions?

Attention Management

We used to talk about time management but nowadays the discussion has switched to attention management. We are dealing with new circumstances that require new techniques and behaviours. This sounds daunting but with a few simple changes we can control what we work on, minimise distractions and make sure we are productive.

1. Take Control

The first step is to decide that you want to change. Are you prepared to do things differently? Will you be tough on yourself?

The key to taking control of your distractions is to know what they are. To gather some real data keep a Timelog for a few days or a week. This may sound like a laborious task but you will be amazed what you discover about where your time is spent.

2. Manage YOUR Distractions

Your data will probably show you that technology is not the only distraction, people are too. This can include clients, staff, colleagues and external callers.

Human Distractions

Let’s take people first.

They can distract us: 1) because of the noise they make, 2) because they sometimes offer a fun alternative to our current work or 3) because they ask us to do something we hadn’t planned.

Here are some tips to manage these distractions:

  • When you work in an open plan office, find a quiet place to focus on important work, a meeting room or an empty office
  • If you have your own office and operate an open-door policy for your team, occasionally ask not to be interrupted. If this doesn’t suit your company culture, spend some time working at home.
  • On occasion when you are asked to do new unplanned work, don’t always say yes. Negotiate based on your priorities and their priorities

Find the correct balance between saying yes and saying no. Use your judgement, always reassessing what is best for your business. But in the pursuit of high productivity, be careful not to damage your working relationships.

Digital Distractions

Technology can push information into our lives whether we want it or not. The list of things that demand our attention is long: social media alerts, Emails, phone calls, text messages. We know this but we feel we can’t stop it.

Today’s “always on” digital culture means we can end up working in a very reactive mode, allowing others dictate our work. We can turn these alerts off but it is often easier to leave them on. We are also inquisitive by nature and we have a fear of missing out if we are not in touch.

The trick is to be strategic. Don’t give all mobile alerts the same priority. Should a “like” on Twitter distract you as much as an Email from an important client?

When you need to really focus on a task switch off your phone or hide it out of sight so you won’t be tempted to check. You can’t always do this but there may be key times in your week when you can.

The term “digital detoxification” has been coined to describe this because it is not easy. So strike a balance – be switched on when you need to be and recognise the times when you don’t.

We have lots of great tips in other posts on how to manage your Email efficiently, click here to read more.

3. Manage Your Attention

Sometimes we feel unproductive even when we have created uninterrupted time to focus on important work. Our productivity is affected by our ability to concentrate. To maintain concentration and energy levels you need to be mindful of: 1) what you eat, 2) whether you take breaks and 3) how much you rest or sleep.

When we run our own business we often compromise these factors. But if you are aware of their impact on productivity it can motivate you to make small adjustments. Even a 15 minute walk at lunch time can help maintain focus for the afternoon. Choosing a reasonably healthy snack can help power through a tough meeting.

It is also important to recognise when you are losing focus so you can quickly get back on track. These pointers can help you develop this habit:

  1. Decide what you want to work on and for how long
  2. Use frequent checkpoints to see if you are still working to plan
  3. If not make a note of what has distracted you
  4. If possible eliminate that distraction so you can return to your plan

Be Productive

So be productive – manage your distractions. When you make changes it can be hard to stick at it. If you find it hard stop and ask yourself why you can’t maintain the change. Then tweak things to suit your work environment better. Best of luck! Let us know below how you get on.

Productivity Experiment

Update on Productivity Experiment – No Coffee for 6 Weeks!

I stopped drinking coffee 15 days ago. The main reason was to honour the Lenten tradition of giving things up. But I was also intrigued to see how caffeine and its absence affected my productivity. Here is my Productivity Experiment Update.

And I am happy to report that I have been pleasantly surprised by this productivity experiment. It has been hard to go without coffee but not nearly as hard as I expected. Particularly as I hadn’t tapered off beforehand, which all the experts recommend.

4 Weeks Still to Go

There is still a way to go but I am hopeful that the worst is behind me. Already I am less inclined to think I need a coffee first thing to “get me going”. But I did lapse one morning, 7 days in. I was running an important seminar and defaulted to old habits. But happily I got back on the horse, or the wagon, I’m not sure which and haven’t faltered since.

What I’ve Learned

  • Drinking lots of water accelerates the caffeine detoxification.
  • It seems to be easier psychologically to give something up if it’s part of a bigger plan rather than trying something for a day or two.
  • Being busy really keeps your mind off it and helps you break the habit
  • Enjoying what you do means you are motivated anyway and don’t rely as much on external factors such as coffee to provide a productivity boost.
  • Energy levels are higher in the afternoon. Presumably this is because there is no lull as the morning coffee leaves your system.
  • Tea is a reasonable alternative but will never provide me with the same happy caffeine boost

What’s Next?

Well it’s only 2 days until St Patrick’s Day, when I can claim a reprieve, yay! My previous lapse tells me that I should be able to enjoy a coffee with my green cupcakes without setting the experiment back too much.

Happy St Patrick’s Day

I hope you all have a great and green St Patrick’s Day wherever you are and if you gave anything up for Lent I hereby grant you a 1 day reprieve!

Be Productive – Learn to Say No

By Moira Dunne

During my first job as a consultant, my client told me that I had the ability to say no while making other people feel good about it. I think it was a compliment! It wasn’t something I planned but when I analysed my approach I realised I was protecting my work time so I could deliver on my commitments. I always tried to help but if I couldn’t at the time I would explain and offer an alternative.

Saying Yes is Natural

For most of us saying yes comes more naturally than saying no. People genuinely want to help people. We want to be known as “a team player” and don’t want to be difficult. We don’t want to appear overloaded with work either, as if we can’t cope within our role. So learning to say no is a skill most of us have to develop.

Saying No by Saying Yes!

So how do we do it? Well the best way to say No is actually to say Yes. By that I mean say no to dropping everything at the time of the request but say yes to a time or approach that suits you better. Take control. But do this professionally with consideration so that the requester understands and is happy with your alternative suggestion. And then follow through.

The requests we receive loosely fall into two categories:

  1. A request from a colleague for help or advice
  2. A request from your boss to do extra work over what was agreed

A request from a colleague for help or advice

If you can’t help straight away offer an alternative time that suits both schedules. Alternatively consider if you are the only one who can help? If help is needed immediately direct the requester to a report or training material or another expert.

A request from your boss to do additional work

If you are already working to a plan that was agreed with your boss then you are in a good position to negotiate. Offer to do the additional work but point out “This is what I am working on based on the plan we agreed. I will happily do this new work but I may need to push out one of these tasks“.

So your objective is to get approval to free up time to do the new task. That way if one of the original tasks doesn’t get done, there is a common understanding why. If your boss insists that you still do everything, at least you have provided a reminder of your current workload based on the agreed plan. This can be a subtle way to highlight that your boss is being unreasonable, maybe unintentionally.

Tone of the Message

As with most business interactions the tone of delivery will greatly affect how your message is received. Find your own words. Use your judgement about how best to position your response. Consider the other persons’ perspective. If you are clear in your own head about why you are responding the way you are, it will start to come naturally.


Of course there are times when we need to just drop what we are doing and help. Again we have to use our judgment and knowledge of our work situation to  identify these times.  This will not be a time for alternatives or rescheduling.

Learn to say no

  1. Strive to say yes if you can
  2. If you can’t, explain your reasons professionally
  3. Provide an alternative
  4. Be committed to the alternative
  5. Negotiate priorities if saying yes

Saying No can Increase Your Credibility

Saying no from time to time can actually increase your credibility, as long as it’s done in a professional way. Saying no (or yes with conditions) can sometimes be the right thing to do for your role, your team and your organisation.

Saying no successfully is all about using your judgement. It’s a trade-off between being helpful and being in control of your own work life.


Let me know your thoughts in the comments section or tell me what approach has worked for you.