How to deal with distractions

ON A recent flight from Sydney to Melbourne, I arrived at the gate lounge 15 minutes before boarding.

I decided it was a good opportunity to meditate for 10 minutes, so I put on my headphones with some relaxation music and settled back.

What I didn't expect was the cacophony and volume of background noise I'd hear - people talking, coughing, walking, airport chimes and announcements…

And then it occurred to me - isn't this similar to what happens to us in our daily lives?

Don't we try to focus on the task at hand and then get surrounded by distractions that appear designed to prevent us from achieving any progress, such as phone calls, emails, queries from suppliers, children, pets or hunger cravings?

Keeping focused with all these distractions is a huge challenge and is what generally prevents us from getting in a state of flow and achieving big things. And, dare I say it: some of us even create our own distractions as a surreptitious form of procrastination.

It has been suggested that if you can multi-task then such interruptions are easy to deal with. However, after many years of observing my own and other people's work habits, my opinion is we can do only one task at a time. How efficiently we perform that task comes down to how fluently we switch from task to task.Multiple studies have shown that something as simple as a phone interruption can reduce your productivity by up to 20 minutes. This takes into account the time required to ramp back up into the state of flow, efficiency or peak performance you were in when first interrupted.

The same studies show women appear to be better at multi-tasking, since they can ramp-up their recovery to peak performance much quicker. Men tend to take longer to get back that momentum.Developing individual ways to focus and refocus our attention can help to minimise the downtime that results from switching between tasks.

For example, I am quite visual, so I surround my work area with images and words that remind me of what is important to me. I also constantly ask myself the question, "What is the best use of my time right now?" This helps to refocus my attention back on the task at hand.

I am also flexible, and find I can adjust my expectations and plans to suit the conditions I'm in. Instead of battling my environment at the airport trying to meditate, I spent the ten minutes waiting to board my plane thinking about this article. I then had a great meditation on the flight, which set me up for a productive day.

While what works for each person is different, there are some techniques everyone can use to help deal with distractions and shift from task to task more efficiently.

Tip #1: Avoid distractions in the first place!

  • Work from somewhere where you won't be disturbed.
  • Do not have emails go into your inbox automatically - you can decide when you want to download and read your emails. Do this no more than twice per day during a scheduled time - and stick to it.
  • Turn off your phone.
  • Log out of social media.
  • Work early and/or late (outside the time when normal daily interruptions occur).

Tip #2: Do a daily plan

  • Prioritise your tasks (A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, B3 etc.).
  • Do them in that order!
  • Do not proceed to the next task until the previous one is complete.
  • Whenever you are interrupted, refer back to the list.

Tip #3: Time-chunk similar tasks

  • Batch similar activities together to take advantage of being in flow, such as creative tasks, administrative tasks, conversations and answering emails.
  • The aim is to still only do one task at a time, but you will find because they are similar, moving from task to task will be easier.

What are your methods for getting back into flow when you have been interrupted or distracted?


This article first appeared on Flying Solo, Australia's solo & micro business community.To read more from David Solomon and for small business support and advice, visit

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