How Project Managers Can Avoid Distractions

Today's post was written by Neen James, a speaker at PMI Mile Hi’s 20th Annual Symposium.

Do you remember growing up, parents wouldn’t tolerate interruptions, often saying: “Don’t interrupt when grown-ups are talking?”

Ever had your parents say “Pay attention to what you are doing?”

Now we ARE the grown-ups and somehow, we’ve forgotten those very basic rules of engagement.

Project management is a complex world of moving parts. Every project management professional battles with balancing phone calls, emails, text messages, alerts, meetings, and more – all in a quest to complete the project on time, under budget and without surprises. It’s no wonder, in this profession, any PMP can focus on any one task a time due to the ongoing interruptions faced.

Fact is, we cannot effectively pay attention to what we are doing if we are constantly battling interruptions. What gives? How are we supposed to accomplish our tasks, meet project expectations and juggle all the information coming our way each day?

Did you know it takes, on average, 23 minutes to refocus your mental effort and energy on a task after being interrupted?

First, consider how many times in a day your interrupted and determine what it costs you in time, mental energy, quality of work, mental health, focus, and productivity.

Consider this – If you spend a total of 5 minutes, five times per day responding to text messages and making small talk with coworkers, you’ve spent (maybe wasted!) 25 minutes of work time. Even still, when you consider it takes our brains 23 minutes to refocus on our tasks at hand for each interruption, you start to see those 5 simple tasks actually cost you almost 2.5 hours in lost concentrated focus and productivity.

You see, a distraction costs more time than just the activity. It costs us mental space and time to refocus afterward.  This realization helps me to focus when I get off track.

A study was performed by info-tech researcher Basex and found distractions cost U.S. companies $588 billion per year in lost productivity. Imagine how much of that money could have been saved if we were able to avoid distractions and stop interruptions.

How Project Managers Can Avoid Distractions

Attention is Key! Attention is vital. A few steps toward mindfulness can help you save time and boost productivity:

1. Count your interruptions

For two days, keep a running list of the distraction types and the number of times it occurs (you will be shocked!). Start proactively finding solutions to stop the self-induced time killers.

2. Master your schedule

Choose brief, 15-minute increments, within your calendar that permit you to take a break, respond to others and allow your mind the downtime it deserves (and craves).

3. Utilize technology to save you from technology

Use apps on smartphones to silence distractions. Better yet, turn them off or use the Do Not Disturb feature until a time you’ve chosen to take a scheduled recovery break. Use your email out-of-office message to alert others of your concentrated efforts and when you’ll be available to respond.

4. Prohibit devices

Create a no-phone policy for meetings and important conversations. Ensure you have everyone’s undivided attention for project related updates. Get everything you need the first time to save you time from clearing up miscommunication later down the line.

5. Do Not Disturb

Permit yourself to create Do Not Disturb work times on their calendar where they can truly unplug from email, visitors, and disruptions.

6. Go public and get accountability 

We have conditioned ourselves to be available to others all day and every day. Stop. Send messages to your friends, family, and colleagues sharing your commitment to productivity. Explain your new schedule has time allocated to respond to their needs. Reset their expectations for your return phone calls, text messages, and mid-day visits.

You see, I believe distractions decay our ability to think clearly, remain focused and be productive. When we allow for interruptions, we limit our ability to pay attention to what matters most. As a result, we feel frustrated and stressed from our ‘crazy busy’ lives where we interruptions and distractions are costing us our ability to get anything of any real value accomplished.

I challenge you to pay attention. Become mindful of your daily distractions and interruptions. You have the control to change how, when and what you focus on achieving.


About The Author

Neen James is a motivational keynote speaker who teaches employees how paying attention and leveraging focus can accelerate profits, productivity and accountability in the workplace. Her signature program, Folding Time®, provides time management skills, activities, techniques and strategies that lead to higher employee engagement, customer service and satisfaction. Neen is also a speaker at PMI Mile Hi’s 20th Annual Symposium.

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