Improve Your Time Management Skills by Limiting Distractions and Eliminating Excuses
by Denise Landers

The Top Ten Distractions in the Office

What comes to mind when you think about office distractions? The most common ones cited are the telephone, email, and paper. Of themselves, those are enough to overwhelm a person each day. However there are other distractions causing you to lose valuable, productive minutes every day. Some of these you may not think of as a distraction at first. Yet anything that takes your focus away from your work at hand can be a problem. Consider how your office setting ranks for the following:

  1. Email
  2. Telephone
  3. Paper
  4. Visitors
  5. Environment
  6. Noise
  7. Meetings
  8. Lists
  9. Expectations
  10. You

Take a look at each of these to assess whether they might be issues in your day:

1. Email.
There are two main problems that pop up. One is the constant alert for new messages, which you can choose to turn off. The second is if your inbox is never emptied. You will continually scroll through all of the items because you are fearful of overlooking something. You need to find a system of folders that let you clear out the general inbox and prioritize your action items.

2. Telephone.
Do you feel you have to answer every call right when it comes in? Set aside time blocks to deal with non-urgent calls, and let your voice mail tell callers when they can expect to hear from you.

3. Paper.
If you have stacks of papers around your desk, you will shift through them frequently to find the urgent items of the day. Instead set up Daily Action folders, make a decision on the needed action the first time you look at it, and keep your desk cleared of distracting stacks.

4. Visitors.
Clients may drop by without notice or a colleague may have a break and decide to take it in your space. Get to the point quickly if someone comes by and interrupts your work.

5. Environment.
This can include heating and lighting. If you are too cold or too hot, you are constantly reflecting on how uncomfortable you are. The lighting in an office can create glare, leading to headaches and tired eyes, causing you to stop frequently. There is no one answer for the right temperature or light situation. You need to find the correct level for yourself.

6. Noise.
Overhearing colleagues' discussions, one-sided telephone conversations, or outside activities diverts your concentration. If you are easily distracted, close your door, use a small white noise machines, or try headphones.

7. Meetings.
In a work environment where meetings are frequent, it becomes difficult to set aside an uninterrupted block of time for detailed projects. You end up coming in early or staying late so that you can finally get things done. Make sure that you have scheduled time to focus on projects during the day. It needs to be written on your calendar.

8. Lists.
Working from lengthy lists, whether ToDos, a book of voice mail messages, or an email inbox, causes you to look at the same items again and again. You have to make decisions every time you scan through the items. Your mind keeps jumping around and planning ahead instead of focusing on one item in front of you. Write down tasks on single sheets of paper so that you can easily prioritize your work.

9. Expectations.
What response time has unofficially developed with regard to returning phone calls and email messages? When you feel you have to immediately respond to a call, you allow yourself to constantly be interrupted. Could a 3-minute response time be changed, letting people know you will respond within two hours or four hours?

10. You.
Often you may become bored with your activity and decide to check email for a few minutes; or you have several projects in view and your mind keeps jumping from one to the other. Work with only one project on your desk at a time. If you momentarily lose focus, do not give up, just try to get back on track.

The first step in limiting distractions is to be aware of them. You may be able to add more things to this beginning list. Once you recognize what interferes with your work, then you can begin to make the changes that will add to your daily productivity.

The Top Six Excuses for Office Clutter and Disorganization

"I've got to get organized." There is no seasonal limit on this intention. It is one of the top two resolutions every new year. It surfaces again at tax time in April, and then continues to spring up throughout the rest of the year, often remaining an elusive goal.

Why is it that some people seem to be able to work in an organized state, while others continually struggle to achieve this state? If you have been hoping to make changes so that you can more easily cope with the daily challenges you face, you might want to examine the excuses that could keep you from changing your situation.

There are six common excuses for not actually achieving the organized state that you would really like reach:

1. "I do not have time."

Organization often gets set aside because everything else appears to be a higher priority. Yet research shows the average business person is wasting over one hour per day due to disorganization - more than six weeks per year! Scheduling even one day to creating effective systems in your office will help you to be better at daily time management. You will also gain back those hours spent within two weeks, and you will be working ahead for the rest of the year.

2. "There is no space to put everything."

In this situation, consider two possibilities:

  • You are missing some areas that would make good storage.

    If all horizontal surfaces are covered, think vertical. What types of shelves could be added above your current furniture to give more space?

    Within your existing shelf space, could you subdivide that with stack trays or cubes to fill out the area?

  • You are keeping more than you need.

    In the case of business information, is it something you could easily find elsewhere, like the internet or in an electronic document?

    In the case of clutter, only keep the things that are useful or that you really enjoy. Not everything has to be displayed.

3. "It will be disorganized again next week."

That simply means that you have not truly created a system that works. There is a difference between cleaning up and developing effective processes for everyday activities. With an effective, productive system, you know where every incoming item goes, and no task or deadline gets overlooked.

4. "This is not all my stuff."

Did you take over an office where the file drawers were already full? You never cleared them out, so now your things remain stacked. Take the old material out and box it, using the space for your current work.

5. "It might come in handy some day."

How many packets of ketchup, soy sauce, and plastic spoons do you need in your "food" drawer? In addition, look around and see if you have more supplies than you could possibly use in the next year. Limit yourself to what you actually use, and return the extras to the supply room.

6. "I do not know where to start."

Some people simply do not have the training or intrinsic ability to develop a productive space by themselves. Find a friend who can help, and then you can trade off in another area where you have a given skill, or hire a time management consultant who specializes in productive spaces and processes. Do not drag out the process. Get organized as quickly as possible and move on to the things that allow you to achieve your priorities, like growing your business.

Once you eliminate your excuses, schedule the time to get organized on your calendar. You will quickly gain back the hours spent, and the cost in time or dollars becomes an investment rather than an expense. It is the first step to improving time management skills, increasing productivity, feeling in control, and lowering daily stress.

Denise Landers, productivity trainer, organizing specialist, author of Destination: Organization ( and owner of Key Organization Systems, Inc. has spent years speaking, training, consulting, and coaching on the topics of time management and effective workflow. To find easy ways to prioritize, focus and improve your team productivity, subscribe for free monthly articles on time management and organizing topics at:

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Copyright 2007 by Denise Landers. All rights reserved.

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