Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 10: Distractions

[Introduction to the Challenge] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9]

Distractions are a bad thing.  Why would we try to batch them?  Why not just eliminate them?  It’s a nice thought, but it’s not realistic.  I’ve covered distractions and time wasters to some extent in the past (here, here, and here), but I’ve always focused on how to minimize or attempt to eliminate them.

Before you can tackle this batching task, you need to first identify your daily distractions.  We usually think of distractions as negative things, but you’ll see that they are often things we enjoy.  A distraction, for our purposes, is something that impedes the completion of a task, however large or small.  Here are my typical, daily distractions:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Non-work related instant messaging
  • Work related instant messaging
  • Checking the statistics of my website
  • Reading blogs on my Google Reader
  • Checking on my fantasy baseball teams
  • Checking sports scores
  • Checking e-mail
  • Thinking of random business ideas that haven’t gone anywhere yet
  • Talking to people I like
  • Talking to people I don’t like

There’s probably a lot more that I’m not thinking of.

What can we do to minimize the negative impact on productivity that results from the above distractions?  Batch them and schedule them.  It’s simple, and I think it could be effective.  Instead of checking random websites throughout the day or walking around talking to people randomly, pick a time later in the day.  The reason you’ll pick a time later in the day is because people are generally less productive (you’re tired, you’re watching the clock waiting to go home, etc.).  We’ll say… 3:00-4:00.

Before you kill me for suggesting that you don’t work for an entire hour in the afternoon, think about it.  When you’re distracted by something during the day, how much of your time does it take?  You walk around to talk to people – 10 minutes.  You read an article online – another 10 minutes.   Each of these mini-breaks add up, and before you know it, you’ve probably killed an hour easily.  The downside here is that you’re putting down work and picking it back up so much more frequently.  Any kind of efficient groove you get yourself into is promptly thwarted by your distraction.

By batching your distractions and scheduling them, you’re less tempted to let yourself get distracted at random points during the day.  If at 2:00 you have the urge to read Facebook, you hold off, knowing that in an hour, you are allowing yourself to do it.

It doesn’t need to be a rigid system though.  If you “schedule” your distractions for 3:00 and for some reason something comes up, you just push it back.  It’s not like any of these distractions were urgent anyway.

Tip: If you find that you’re really into scheduling your batch of distractions and you work in an environment that uses shared calendars (via Outlook or Google, for meetings, etc.), block off the hour on your calendar so that no one can schedule meetings with you during that time.  It may seem a little ridiculous, but if it keeps you from being distracted throughout the rest of the day, it’s adds value to your productivity.

Time Savings
I don’t think it’s easy to really calculate time savings on distractions.  Some days you’re really busy and barely have 10 minutes for a distraction, while other days you can’t focus and seem to spend the entire day distracted.

  • Estimated time spent with distractions throughout the day: 1.5 hours/day (7.5 hours/week)
  • Estimated time spent with batched and scheduled distractions: 1 hour/day (5 hours/week)
  • Monthly time savings: 5-10 hours (wide range because this one is difficult to measure)

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