It is so irritating when you want to go full steam ahead to get something done and then find yourself stopped in your tracks. When you got up this morning you probably had an idea of what you wanted to get done today. Maybe you even have a to-do list for the day or the week. The problem is that more often than not we fail to get all those things done. This can be annoying and in the worst case can cause some serious stress in people who end up constantly trying to catch up with their to-do list(s).

Like many of us, I maintain a list of the things I want to get done – both for work and in life and I regularly find myself in a position where other things get in the way. There are many reasons for that including unexpected phone calls, urgent emails that arrives in your inbox, a meeting that is overrunning as well as other more mundane distractions.

A few months ago I was running an executive retreat with about 200 senior executives and in one of the sessions we focused on personal productivity and performance. During the session we created a list of the most common distractions that stop us getting things done and I thought it would be good to share this list here and gather some reactions.

Here is the list we created of the top seven things that will stop you getting things done, today and every day:

1.      Meetings – Meetings must waste so much time in companies because the wrong people attend, the meetings overrun or the agenda and discussions shift away from the original topic or get hijacked by some over-talkative individuals.

2.      Emails – Everyone knows the feeling when they are trying to get things done and then get interrupted and distracted by the email that pops up on your computer screen (often with a little annoying beep) or the flashing red light on your Blackberry.

3.      Phone calls – The problem with phone calls is that they are hard to escape from. When your phone rings you know someone is on the other end of the line and wants to speak to you and once the phone rings (and especially once you you pick up) you are distracted.

4.      Social Media – It is so easy to get distracted by the things that are happening on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest. You get a notification of a new comment and off you go looking at pictures, liking comments, re-tweeting posts, etc.

5.      Your Smart Phone – Your smartphone is of course linked to phone calls and emails and is often the main route to our social media activities. However, the reason it has its own spot on the list is because it is so much more. Simply by picking up our smart phones we get distracted by the internet, apps, games, music, etc.

6.      Other Colleagues – We have all worked with those colleagues who just come over to you and interrupt whatever you are doing. This might involve some legitimate issues but often involves social chitchat or the latest gossip.

7.      Worries – Finally, there are worries that are distracting us from getting things done. We often end up worrying about things to do with our job as well as our private lives such as relationships, money worries or others.

So these where my top seven - what do you think? There are, of course, things you can do to better manage these interruptions and distractions in order to become more productive. Here are some I would suggest (and I know that not everyone will have the options to do these things):

1.      Create a real meeting discipline at work where meetings start and finish on time, where each meeting has a clear agenda and objective and where only those attend who need to be there.

2.      Only look at emails at certain times throughout the day – maybe spend some time in the morning and some time in the afternoon looking at emails and for the rest of the day switch off email notification and turn your smart phone over.

3.      If you need to get something important done try to also switch your phone off or maybe arrange with a colleague to redirect your phone to him or her or (if you are lucky enough to have one) ensure your secretary or PA filters calls for you. If you can’t do any of the above then there is always the option of asking people who ring you whether it is okay to ring them back at a later time because you are in the middle of something.

4.      Many find social media really tricky to manage and I would say it has no place during the time you are working or trying to get something done. You can post, like and re-tweet as much as you like during the lunch break or before or after work.

5.      Turn your smart phones on silent when you want to get things done and turn them up-side down (with vibrate alerts off) so you don’t get tempted by the pop-up messages and alerts to new emails, Facebook comments or Twitter mentions.

6.      Tell your colleagues when you don’t want to be interrupted and create a code (a bit like the do-not-disturb sign you put on your hotel room) to signal you don’t want to be disturbed. You can also create some space where, for example, you are not available before 10am in the morning or say 3pm in the afternoon.

7.      It is quite hard to manage other colleagues because you don’t want to come across as rude or someone that is not interested in anything else other than getting their job done. Sometimes a polite reminder that you have to get back to your job works best.

8.      Worries are probably the most difficult to manage. The problem with worries is that they just appear and are hard to switch off. The only bit of advice I can give is to be aware of when they come along and then try to to ‘park’ them until the task is complete, unless they are unfounded worries that we should simply disperse.

9.      Finally, embrace that each day will bring interruptions and distractions and therefore don't plan things too tightly. Leave some blank space in your diary so you don't get stressed out when the distractions appear - as they always to, no matter how well you manage them!

‘Like’ this article if you agree that these are the things that stop us getting things done and use the comment field to add other things that stop you from getting things done or share some ideas about how to avoid and ‘manage’ these distractions.


Bernard Marr is a best-selling business author and enterprise performance expert. Make sure you click 'Follow' if you would like to hear more from Bernard Marr in the future and feel free to also connect via Twitter, Facebook

 and The Advanced Performance Institute


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