How to concentrate when you’re easily distracted and very distracting
In the 10 years since I started working (officially and unofficially) at kdm communications, the company has grown enormously in many ways. One of these ways is the increase in staff, from under ten to 14 plus a host of freelance writers, designers, and cameramen. While this is brilliant for the obvious (more writers to nag about the case study I need written) and the less obvious (more birthdays = more cake) reasons, for the easily distracted like myself this can be a bit of a nightmare. The daily discussions of a life science marketing agency are varied to say the least, and even while writing this blog, I’ve been pulled into a myriad of conversations, ranging from the slang used by the youths these days, to which kdm communications cat deserves to grace our twitter page on #NationalCatDay. Unfortunately, this can affect people other than myself. Cries of ‘Hannah please be quiet, you’re distracting me’ can be heard a few times a week (ok, maybe a few times a day) in the office, from various sources. Scientific marketing is a fast-paced sector, and there’s no time for disruptions especially when there’s technical writing to be done! In my quest to end distractions in the kdm communications office, I’ve discovered a few tricks that help me, and might help you as well:
- Headphones are your friend, music is optional! Now obviously this isn’t possible all the time, but when I have a pressing job that needs to be finished asap this is my first step. This works two ways; I’m not distracted by other colleagues talking, and my co-workers are much less likely to disturb me. The technical writers at kdm are fond of this tactic as well, using ear defenders while they write and proof. If you do listen to music, I suggest something without lyrics (this blog is being written to the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings).
- Write a list, then add timings. If I have a very busy day ahead, I like to take the time to plan my entire day beforehand. First I write a list of everything that needs to be done, then I work out the order in which they need to be done. Once I have the order, I estimate the time needed for each task and schedule them accordingly. For example, I scheduled writing this blog for 3pm, and allowed myself 30 minutes for it. Don’t worry if you’re timings are off, I generally find they balance out, some things may take longer than you expect but some will be quicker.
- If you start something, then finish it. This goes with the above, but don’t jump from one project to another. This definitely used to be my downfall. I would start one task, and then suddenly remember another urgent job and switch to working on that. Sometimes this is inevitable if an urgent email comes in (see below), but most of the time it’s preventable. If you focus entirely of one task, you are likely to complete it much more quickly and effectively, giving you more time for the rest of your work. This doesn’t have to mean finishing one entire project in one go, but splitting into smaller manageable tasks that can be completed independently at various times in the day.
- Ignore your emails. Again, this might not be possible for some people, but you can still minimise the impact they have. I mentally label each email that comes in on a scale of 1-5. Emails labelled 1 are urgent, and must be dealt with immediately, but are rare. 2’s must be dealt with immediately after I finish my current task, 3’s have to be done by the end of the day, 4’s by the end of the week, and 5’s can be filed immediately. Once an email is labelled, it’s either dealt with, or put on a list for later thought.
- Take a break if you need it. Sometimes your brain has just had enough and you need to give it a rest, which is when you’ll find yourself distracted by the tiniest things. This can mean different things for different people. Sometimes you can just get up, walk to the kitchen and grab a cup of coffee or tea, and by the time you’re back at your desk you’re ready to go again. Other times you may need a bit of fresh air, or a walk around outside to clear your head. If you’ve been working at one project constantly for more than three hours, I would definitely suggest switching projects if possible. As I mentioned above, splitting large projects into smaller tasks can help massively with this.