If there’s one thing we can likely all agree on when it comes to focusing on a communication strategy, it’s this: current events have thrown us a curveball.
No matter how hard you try to avoid your newsfeed, mute the 24/7 news cycle, or sort your inbox, it’s impossible to not feel the impact of what’s happening in today’s world.
The coronavirus has shaken our world and working during a time such as this is, well, about as easy as focusing on work while having a child tug at your pant leg.
In fact, you might actually have a child tug at your pant leg.
Here’s how to work with distractions and still be successful.
Working In a Distracted World Isn’t New to Me
Eight years ago, I started a work-from-home life.
It was bliss for this introvert who loves yoga pants.
When my husband would leave for his office, I’d head to mine.
It was quiet and the only thing distracting me at the time was the proximity of the refrigerator and pantry.
Four years ago, I welcomed my first son into the world. Nineteen months after that, our second child arrived.
Overnight, my priorities changed requiring me to focus my attention on my kids first and work second.
Now, days look a little more like this:
- Just when I find my groove while writing a blog post, a child often wakes up from his nap.
- At the exact time when I sit down to watch a video or send a Slack message (like to the Spin Sucks Community), I sometimes hear, “Mom?”
I don’t have a lot of childcare to allow me to work a full 40-hours a week for many reasons, none of which are important to this post.
So, it’s clear.
I’m regularly distracted at work, a reality that has become the norm for millions of working parents around the globe today.
It’s important to note that I wouldn’t change my setup for the world.
Still, it’s hard to ignore that the lack of predictability and the constant shift in focus can quickly halt productivity in its footsteps.
I just have had to figure out how to work with distractions and still be effective.
The New Norm
Today, kids at home or not, many of us are feeling that same pinch.
Just when we’re geared up to knock out a task on our to-do list, we get a notification on our phone about a breaking news story.
At the exact time we sit down to publish a new social post, a notification pops up in the lower-left corner letting us know someone we follow is live with important information.
Without question, it’s a distracted world—even when life-altering world events are tugging our attention away and thrusting us into a new normal.
We have to learn how to work with distractions.
As communicators, we need those momentum moments to focus on important tasks at hand.
We can’t hop on and hop off like some ride around Disneyland.
While there are obvious ways to reduce distractions, such as investing in noise-canceling headphones or silencing notifications, one of the bigger and longer-lasting ways to maintain focus is to get organized.
Here are the tips on how to work with distractions that have proven enormously helpful to me throughout my course of working from home with kids and many times, little to no childcare.
Tether Your Time
I have a concept called “tethered time,” which involves tethering two tasks together.
- naptime with work time
- workouts with getting my kids outside
- independent play with follow-ups and reach outs
The idea is to multitask at times when you’ll have the best chance of focusing for a somewhat extended period of time.
Over the years, I’ve gotten really good at knowing about how much time I’ll predictably have during a given activity or sleep cycle.
Not only do I know how much time I’ll need to write the blog post, plan a webinar, or pitch a media outlet, but I also know how much time I will have on the home front so I can identify where to tether the tasks together.
If you don’t have kids at home, you can practice this concept, too.
- reach outs to catching up on a video
- a walk outside (six feet away, for now) to catching up on a podcast
- the most productive time of day for you mentally (early riser, here!) to the tasks that require the most focus
If you want to work with distractions, you must find a task and an activity that lasts approximately the same amount of time and tether the two together.
Make Your Own Color-Coded Routine Chart
You know the color-coded routine charts floating around on Facebook for kids who are home from school but still need to learn?
They work for adults, too.
Even better, they work well for the above concept of tethered time.
As you’re planning how you’ll make it through quarantine, give yourself some predictability by color-coding your days.
If you’re most productive in the morning, add the hardest work during that time by highlighting it in green for go.
Know you need an active break to hop on the Peloton or go for a run?
Highlight that time in yellow, for energy.
Brain shuts off after 4 p.m.?
Highlight the evening in blue to signal it’s a time for calm and restoration.
The goal isn’t necessarily to color code your life and stick to it.
Instead, by color coding a sample of what your day could look like, you’re able to mentally prepare yourself for what you should be doing and when.
It’s easier to get in the game when you have a game plan to follow.
(Sports analogy added as a courtesy for those of us who are missing March Madness or spring training right about now.)
You’ll be amazed at how much clarity and focus it provides.
Get Organized to Make Communications Easier
To learn how to work with distractions successfully you have to get organized.
When you sit down at your desk during those times when you need to feel most productive, it’s important that you can move fast towards the tasks that matter.
This requires some forward-thinking, so you can set yourself up for success.
Template Busy Work
So often, we’re asked for a headshot, image, or bio out of the blue.
How much time do you spend hunting those down?
Make a list right now of all the things you can do this with.
Swipe copy you can create and pull from for every part of your job.
Set Your Priorities
Sure, you might think you know the big picture of what you hope to accomplish throughout the week, but how clear are you on what those tasks look like day-to-day?
By setting your priorities, and then distilling them out into bite-sized tasks, you can better plan for each moment of productivity.
Gini Dietrich has written some good advice around setting priorities.
Do a Daily Brain Dump
Trying to hoard ideas, conversations, and more in your head causes you to live in a flurry of self-made distractions.
You end up working hard to remember things, which causes you to lose mental focus on the tasks at hand.
Create a system where you can regularly brain dump ideas—even if those ideas are as small as what to post on social media the next few days.
Get them out of your head, so you can get on with your workday with focus.
My brain dump process typically looks like this: I break out my Apple pen and open my GoodNotes app, then start writing down ideas.
I highlight big points to remember but otherwise write without care.
There are misspellings.
There are grammatical errors.
Sometimes there aren’t even words.
All I want is to get the ideas out of my head and onto paper so I can liberate that brain space for other things
How to Work with Distractions: Your Tips
I’d love to hear from you about how you’re adapting to this increasingly distracting world to run a more or focused-driven business.