We’ve all been there: you’re plugging away on a piece that could be—or should be—great when the notification comes in. Someone tweeted you about how much they loved your blog post! Or maybe someone in your networking group just messaged you on Slack. Perhaps you can’t resist checking out what your competitor has been up to lately. Or maybe it’s all three.
No matter how it begins, it ends the same: the minutes turn to hours and, before you know it, you’ve abandoned your work. Not to be daunted by the distraction, you proceed to waste even more time trying to get back on track and schedule out all of the new project ideas you’ve come up with, until you’ve run through the entire day.
This is what work looks like in our increasingly fragmented society. And if you’re a freelancer like more than 15% of today’s workforce, the picture is even grimmer: working from home in your pajamas, with no one to hold you accountable, you can easily waste an entire week.
It doesn’t have to be this way. These 10 tips won’t rid you of distractions, but they can help you better manage them and start the process of maintaining good habits.
End the Multitasking Delusion
Think you’re a master of multitasking? You’re probably just a master of distraction. Study after study conclusively proves that multitasking just doesn’t work. And, in your attempts to multitask, you’re probably driving yourself crazy. Stick to one task at a time. It helps you sharpen your focus and shortens the time to checking the next item off of your to-do list.
Maintain Consistent Habits
If you want to master the art of writing for digital marketing, you have to, well, write. Write on a regular basis, even if you don’t have a lot of steady paid work. A personal blog, marketing website, and pitches to your favorite media outlets can all keep you busy even if you’re not making a steady paycheck.
Skills rapidly deteriorate when you don’t use them. Staying busy is also the best way to get things done. Maintain a full schedule, and you’ll find you’re more productive than when you have loads of down time. Regularly reading and writing about your favorite digital marketing topics will also help keep your knowledge at the forefront of this rapidly changing industry.
It’s a lot harder to know what to do with your day if you don’t have a clear idea of what you need to accomplish in a given week or month. Set weekly and monthly goals for yourself, then plan each day—down to the hour, if necessary—around those goals. You’ll feel less panicked, and you’ll be inspired to keep working since each task takes you closer to a goal.
Use a Project Manager
Project management tools can be a lifesaver for the digitally distracted. And there’s a project manager to fit every budget. Whether you prefer to use something free like Trello, or something more customizable like Teamwork, a project manager can help you create a list and stick to it.
My team sets up weekly “sprints” with everything that we need (and hope) to accomplish for the week. Then, each morning, we review our tasks for the day and ensure all of the projects are where they are supposed to be. This helps to keep everyone accountable and knowing where to focus their time and energy.
Create a Workable Workspace
When it comes to sports, they say dressing for the part will improve your performance. The same is true for a setting up your space for success. Sure, it’s easy to let your desk become cluttered and for your office to fill up with take-out boxes and water bottles. But no one truly wants to work in this frustrating environment. A workable workspace reduces stress by making it easy to find the stuff you need. It also inspires you to take yourself, and your work, seriously.
When you’re struggling to get out of bed or feel like your work is going nowhere, your crisp and clean desk reminds you you’re a real professional. Don’t just focus on aesthetics, though. Ensure your space works for you by having all of your files readily available, a clean area to write and edit, a soft place to rest your feet, and a comfortable chair that never leaves you with a backache.
Pinterest offers drool-worthy inspiration that includes all styles and caters to all budgets. Invest in yourself by investing in your workspace.
Reduce Social Media Distractions
Chances are if you work in digital marketing, you have to use social media in one capacity or another for work. An increasingly social workplace means that many people use social media to promote their brands or their clients.
Some workplaces even rely on social media apps to help employees chat with one another during the day. And if you are going for social transparency (which is the most recommended way) you are logging into your personal social media accounts for work.
These uses are healthy and helpful—especially for digital marketing—but if you’re endlessly looking for notifications and attention, you’re courting disaster. It’s just not sustainable unless, of course, your job is to manage social accounts.
One recent study even found that the more people used social media, the worse they felt about themselves (eek! bad news for us, I know). Still, there’s no shame in popping on a few times a day, or in using social media to stay in touch and network with industry contacts—but you have to find a way to create balance.
If you can’t resist the draw of social media, try an app that blocks social media during the day, or for a predetermined period of time. Better yet, disconnect your wireless access while you work on a specific project, hopping back on only to take a break.
If the thought of disconnecting from social media makes you hyperventilate a little bit, get some piece of mind by scheduling your posts in advance with a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite. Set aside 15 minutes each morning to collect your industry good reads and plan your posts out for the day (or week). That way you’re not constantly bouncing from app to app.
Build Rewards and Structure Into Your Day
Though used to a chilling effect in the Shining, the admonition that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is forever true. Very few people can work nonstop for ten hours without a break. And, even if you manage to do so for a day or two, you’ll quickly burn out.
Build rewards into your day. This keeps you motivated and gives you something to look forward to when you can’t imagine pressing on for another minute. If you work from home, a walk with your dog or a quick tree pose might be all you need.
At work, plan time for a quick loop around the office or even a brief trip to your favorite store so that you have a set time and don’t get stuck in water cooler chatter.
Set Clear Boundaries
Particularly if you are self-employed, it can be difficult to get people to recognize that you work at all—let alone that your time is valuable. It’s up to you to teach people how to treat you by setting clear boundaries. Try some of the following:
- Work during normal working hours, and let friends and family know that you’re working—not up for a brief chat or visit.
- Schedule phone calls, rather than telling clients to call anytime.
- Set expectations for your professional relationships early. Ensure clients know how much you charge for edits, when they can expect the work, and whether a consultation will incur additional charges. Creep-in digital projects can easily eat up half of your day. Make good use of contracts to prevent it.
- Don’t allow someone else’s pleas of urgency to distract you. In our distracted era, everyone wants a response right now. But if everyone gets one, then nothing gets done. Respond when it’s convenient for you, as long as you do so within about a day.
Respond in Bulk
Endlessly answering emails and phone calls in the midst of working on a masterpiece is enough to drive anyone to the brink. Instead, set aside a couple of time slots each day during which you respond to emails and return phone calls.
You’ll have more time to construct a substantive response, will manage to actually complete more responses, and will no longer resent the needless stream of communications filling up your inboxes.
Get a Second Opinion
If you’re self-employed or struggling to start a second career on your own, you’re bound to have moments of deep isolation. After all, there’s no boss to give you performance reviews, no co-workers to fill you in on office gossip, and certainly very little feedback from anyone else.
You need a second opinion. Consider joining a group for those in your profession. You’ll find it’s a great way to nurture community and blow off steam, while honing your craft. If you want even more detailed feedback, try hiring a consultant or other pro. Even if your digital strategies or writing skills are (practically) legendary, a skilled copy editor can give you constructive feedback that takes it to the next level.
Do you have any special tactics you use to maintain good habits and stay on task? Let us know in the comments below!