Leadership

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Ever notice your day seems to vaporize and you wonder what happened to all your best intentions?

You’re ready to end the day, but you barely even dented your to-do list. As a result, you’re going to have to try to justify squeezing an hour of work in after dinner or just get up at a ridiculous hour tomorrow to try again.

Not only is that pattern unsustainable, but it’s also mysterious. You try not to have it happen again, but it does anyway.

So…what causes that? At the root of it is likely repeated patterns and behaviors.

There’s also another problem more leaders struggle with than ever before, and that’s distraction.

As research and experiments have shown, workers get interrupted as often as every 11 minutes during the workday, and it takes 25 minutes to refocus after each interruption.

The math doesn’t even exactly add up, but you get the point. That’s why it feels impossible to get anything done.

Slay these distractions today, and you’ll have a better tomorrow.

1. Push Notifications

Nearly every single app in the world starts off its relationship with you by asking “Allow Push Notifications?”

Your automatic answer as a leader should be no. Every single time (except one…I tell you which exception I think you should make below).

You don’t really need to know every time someone sends you an email. Similarly, it’s useless to be notified every time someone comments on your Instagram.

Why? Well, think of push notifications as someone tapping you on the shoulder. If someone tapped you on the shoulder somewhere between 30-300 times a day every day, you would either tell them to quit or get a restraining order.

Every time your phone vibrates, that’s what’s happening.

And don’t think the people you’re in real life conversation with aren’t bothered by your constantly buzzing phone and your incessant need to check your screen. It’s hard to respect or follow a distracted leader.

Being busy isn’t a sign of respect anymore. It’s a sign you’re not managing your time or priorities well.

I disabled push notifications on my phone and turned on the Do Not Disturb on my devices a few years ago. I don’t miss the constant buzzing at all. Nor do my friends and family.

Instant notifications about your messages aren’t that important. I’m not actually that important. With all due respect, neither are you.

2. Text Messages

You’re probably thinking, I get the part about not getting notifications about Instagram, but come on, text messages? Miss those, too?

Here’s what I’ve done with my text messages. Before I tell you, know that I do not give out my cell number as freely as I used to do. Not a lot of people have it. Even then, I don’t want to be a slave to it.

So, I allow push notifications for text messages, but I keep my phone on Do Not Disturb, which means I don’t feel them or hear them.

When I’m ready to take a break, I pull out my phone and do a quick check. That way they don’t interrupt me.

But wait, you say, what’s if it’s a true emergency?

Well, if you’re waiting for a new kidney and the doctor is texting you that you need to come to the hospital right this second or you lose the organ, sure…keep your phone on.

The planet will keep spinning. I promise you.

And you will get more done.

3. Your Idle Curiosity

The challenge of working in an online environment is that the world is literally at your fingertips. 

And working in a home office makes it even more tempting to check the world!

The distractions are a click or tap away. It takes tremendous self-discipline not to go down the rabbit-hole of the internet, from social media to mindless Googling of things that really don’t matter, like the surface area of the sun or who invented the straight-razor.

Curiosity is a great thing, but idle curiosity that produces nothing…not so much.

We blame our office environment, co-workers, endless email or whatever. But eliminate all those things, and you still have you to contend with.

I don’t need an enemy. I have one. It’s a perpetually distracted me. You don’t need an enemy. You have one. It’s a perpetually distracted you.

4. Inefficient Email

If you can’t totally escape email entirely, limit it.

Turning off push notifications is a great start, but it won’t solve all your problems.

Try changing your email practices from ‘always checking all the time’ (which is the default for almost all of us) to tiny pockets where you check it at different points in the day.

For example, try doing a small window of say 15 minutes in the morning to make sure nothing’s on fire. 90% of the time, things aren’t on fire.

Then come back to email at a set time later in the day and pound through it. Do it when your energy is a little lower and spend your best energy instead on the tasks that are most important to you that day.

The less time you spend on email, the less it will consume you.

Second, don’t manage or lead by email.

Here’s how it happens to most leaders. Someone thinks of an issue, so they send an email. Someone adds a thought, and they reply all.

A conversation that might take 5 minutes in person (or less) drags on a through a series of useless replies that go on for days.

Here is a practice adopted by Carey Nieuwhof’s team that helped them.

First, don’t email people about everything. If you have an issue that could be just as easily handled by phone or in person, park it on a list.

Then, once you have a list of 5-15 items, do a simple 15-minute check-in phone meeting or stand-up meetings in person to handle them all. You’ll be way more efficient.

Similarly, if a direct report emails me something that’s not urgent, I’ll just ask them to wait until our weekly meeting with it. It can almost always wait.

If it’s truly urgent and there will be a lot of back and forth, pick up and phone and call or do a quick text exchange. People are always shorter on text than on email.

Not everything is urgent, so don’t treat it like it is.

5. We live in meetings, and our productivity dies in them.

Meetings are a huge distraction in a world where leaders often simply need to get work done.

If I’m not careful, I can spend half of my week in meetings, and most are virtual meetings… and have only a few hours left over for writing messages and leading what matters most.

Meetings expand to fill the time you’ve set aside for them. So just set aside less time.

6. An Open Schedule

Chances are you only write appointments with others and meetings in your schedule, right?

Big mistake.

Make appointments with yourself. Write in writing time, thinking time, date nights with your spouse, family time —everything you need to get done.

Why?

Then when someone asks to meet, you can say you have a commitment. If it’s truly important, schedule them in during your next available slot.

An open schedule is a guarantee you’ll spend your time on everyone else’s priorities, not yours.

Conversely, a fixed calendar can fix your life.

7. Conversations without Purpose

Conversations can waste tons of time. And they happen all the time to leaders. Sometimes you feel trapped in one.

What do you do when someone corners you or gets through to you? Be pleasant and move on. You’ve got work to do.

Turn that 20-minute conversation into a two-minute conversation. Be pleasant, thank them and if need be, tell them you were on your way to get something done. Then go do it.

If you work in an actual office, close the door, or put a sign on the door that you’re doing focused work.

If you’re in an open office or even a home office, you can even devise a signal with co-workers or family members that lets them know you’re not free to chat.

If you can shut down meaningless conversations, you’ll ramp up your productivity.

Ideas adapted from Carey Nieuwhof

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Written by Stan Ponz
Dr. Stan Ponz is founder and president of Make It Clear Ministries (a national ministry that began in 1973 to help people take the Gospel and the Word of God into every person's world!). Stan also serves as President of Clarity Christian College. and is married to his high school sweetheart Carol, who led him to the Lord in 1966.