I’m sure you know the scenario. You’ve decided that you are going to work on that important project for several hours today. You get into work, check your e- mail, listen to your voicemail, open the post, start chatting to your colleagues, and before you know it you are confronted with one thing after another that you need to take action on immediately. Your boss demands something on her desk by close of play. A client rings up with an urgent request. You remember that you forgot to book a meeting room for the lunch- time meeting. Just as you’re about to try and sort it all out there’s a fire drill. By the time it’s four o’clock you realise that you haven’t even started on that important project. “I’m far too tired to start now”, you say to yourself. “I’ll give it a really good go tomorrow.” Strangely enough that’s exactly what you said yesterday too!
One of the biggest problems with many people’s working day is distractions. In fact for many people their entire working day is one long distraction. Rather than being able to focus on one thing at a time, they feel their work is highly fractured. The whole working day feels highly fractured. They are rushed off their feet all day, but at the end of the day feel that they have achieved very little.
What can we do about it? The answer is that our main weapon against distractions and interruptions is to be very clear in our own minds whether something is a real emergency or not.
Real emergencies are easy to recognise. If someone tells you that the building is on fire, you don’t worry about time management. You just get out of the building! Genuine emergencies should be very rare unless you’re living in a war zone. The vast majority of things which come up during the day don’t need immediate action. Unfortunately people tend to react to them just as if they were real emergencies. A client rings up with a request and they drop everything in order to sort it out. They remember something they have forgotten, and they rush off to fix it. After responding to a few “emergencies” like that it’s not surprising that the whole day feels out of control.
The best way to stop yourself responding to everything as if it were an emergency is to put some distance between yourself and it by WRITING IT DOWN. Keep a special list on which you write down all the tasks that you come across during the day. Once you’ve written a task down it’s much easier to continue to focus on what you are involved in at the moment, since you know that you have safely stashed the new task where you’re not going to forget it. Keeping all these tasks in one place makes it much easier to decide how each of them can be fitted into the scenario of your work as a whole.