Key Learning Outcomes

  • Understand the impact of distractions on your time management and productivity.
  • Learn to kick-start your day with a to-do list which recognises quick wins.
  • Adopt a strategy to manage technology, including emails and social media.
  • Apply deadlines to your work and work in time blocks to improve efficiency.
  • Recognise that managing people and communicating clearly with your team will minimise distractions from other people.


Distractions are by far the biggest threat to time management and productivity. We often start the day with high hopes of blasting through our to-do list, only to find at the end of the day we have been busy but don’t seem to have achieved anything. Some simple tips will help you manage some of the most common distractions you face on a day-to-day basis.

Create a to-do-list

Number one is to make sure you are working with an effective to-do list and that you complete it for the next day before leaving work each night. This will ensure that you do not waste time in the morning trying to work out what needs to be done, or leave yourself open to distractions. If your list is overwhelming you, highlight the three most important things to do today and make sure these are completed before you start on lesser tasks. Another tip is to look for your quick wins, or things that can get crossed off within the first 30 to 45 minutes of the day. This will give you a kick-start to the day and get you feeling positive and productive.[wlm_ismember]

Manage technology

The second thing is to ensure that your technology is working for you. We live in a world where communication is coming at us 24/7, thanks to smart phones and tablets. One of the biggest barriers to our productivity is when we constantly check emails and text messages and deal with them on the go rather than in a structured manner. For many people the first task of the morning is to check emails that came in overnight. Sifting through bulk emails or reading a funny joke or story from a friend can waste valuable time. The reality is that many people get to work, have a coffee, and settle back and read through every email, and before they know it, an hour or longer has passed before they actually start to work. There will be very little in your inbox that cannot wait for 30 to 45 minutes. Use that first 45-minute time block to get one of those important tasks completed or to power through a few quick wins before turning your email on. The result is that you are in work mode by the time you are sorting your emails and the task will take less time.

Email management

Set times for checking emails during the day. Unless you are waiting for an urgent email to come through, turn off the ghosting so that you are not distracted as new messages come in. Again, there is unlikely to be anything that cannot wait for an hour or so. This allows you to control your time more effectively and again will mean that you will be more focused and efficient when you are sorting your inbox. When going through the emails delete the junk so you do not spend your valuable time on something that adds no value to your day. If you receive information that you think could be interesting, such as an industry newsletter, move it to a follow-up folder to read later. Always look for quick wins such as emails that require a short answer. If the email needs a long response or requires you to do something before you can respond, add it to your to-do list. It will either be a high-priority task for today or something you can postpone until you finish some of the more important tasks.

Be wary of social media

It goes without saying that social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be a big distraction and time drain. Like emails, you should limit the number of times you check your Facebook page, for example. Social media is a wonderful way to keep in contact with friends and family and can be a valuable business tool. However, you should limit the amount of time you spend on it each day. There really is no time for social media in your business day if you use it only for family and friends. Also, avoid programs on your phone or tablet that flash up messages every time someone interacts with your page.

Work with deadlines

The next tip is to set yourself deadlines for tasks and activities. There is a saying that work will expand or contract to the time that you give it. Therefore, if you use this principle when setting a deadline for completing a task,  you will be more focused and you will most likely complete or make good progress with a job within the allotted time period. If the project is a large one, break it down into smaller tasks. For example, if you are working on your business plan, break it down into parts and put just one or two components on your to-do list each day.

Use time blocks

Few of us can work for hours on end without a break or some day-to-day interruption, so it is best to work in blocks of 45 to 90 minutes. Use the time as if it is an appointment; turn your phone and emails off, and let your team know that you are working on something important until  a specified time and you cannot be disturbed. You will find if you get into the habit of doing this every day, even for just 90 minutes, your project list will start to look less daunting as you begin to complete tasks. Be wary of falling into the trap of thinking I only have 30 minutes so I will not bother starting this task or project. If you get 30 minutes of good solid work done, you will have likely made a good start on the task, or at least clarified your thoughts on it, making it easier and faster to finish off in the long run.

Manage people

Lastly and perhaps the hardest one is dealing with distractions from other people. We all have that friend or client who likes to phone up or drop in for a chat. It is important to maintain these relationships on your terms. If you are in the middle of something, or about to work on something important, let them know that while you are very keen to talk to them you will have to call them back. This is why it is important to have your phone and email turned off for high productivity periods each day. Effective communication is the key for your team. If you communicate that you are working on something important for 60 minutes and cannot be disturbed, you will find you will be interrupted only in emergencies. If you need to spend an entire day working uninterrupted on something, you would be better to remove yourself from the workplace, for example work from home or even at the public library. This will allow you to concentrate on your project. You could call into the office at set intervals if need be.

Pick the right time

One final tip is to make sure you schedule tasks for appropriate times. For most businesses there are peak productivity periods during day or week that can be identified, so make sure that when you are scheduling your 45 – 90 minute block it is not at a time when distractions are more likely. Additionally, it is important to take a look at yourself and determine when you feel most productive. If you are a morning person then you should be doing important tasks first thing. Also, monitor how you are feeling physically. Don’t start on an important activity if you are feeling tired, hungry or ill, as you will reduce your chances of doing the job to the best of your ability. Use these tips in conjunction with the other time management articles in this section of the website to see improvements in your productivity.[/wlm_ismember]

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