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How to conquer 10 common workplace distractions

Most days are a fight between our to-do list and the distractions that take us away from achieving our goals. Leadership trainer Tim Millburn, on his blog, notes that often those distractions are things we put in our own way.

He cites 10 common distractions worth pondering:

1. Unstructured time

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If there's work to be done, it's essential to put aside a block of time on your calendar to handle it. After all, if you don't schedule your own time, someone else will. But if you schedule time, you can now say you're busy when asked to take on someone else's priorities.

2. Lack of deadlines

Some tasks will take as long as you give them. So put a deadline on each task – not only when it will be finished, but also how much time you will allocate.

3. Lack of a plan

If you react to whatever comes across your desk in spontaneous fashion, rather than developing a plan and to-do list, you'll be constantly distracted and ineffectual.

4. Doing it all yourself

Just because you are a leader doesn't mean you are the right person to do everything. "Take another look at your to-do list," Mr. Millburn advises. "Are there items on the list you can hand off to someone else? What are the items on the list that only you can do?"

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5. Perfectionism

You keep working at a task – feeling productive – because of one small detail that doesn't feel quite right. But you have succumbed to the law of diminishing returns. Perfection is an elusive goal, he says; focus on excellence, which is achievable – and move on.

6. Pinball urgency

Urgent matters grab your attention, and you flip from one to the other, with each new e-mail or phone call, like a ricocheting pinball.

7. Open-door policy

You are focused, in the groove, when somebody drops by to chat. You figure that's a necessary corollary of being available to others. "But availability doesn't always mean accessibility," he advises. "To get a handle on this distraction, I have one rule I share with those around me: My door is always open … unless it's closed."

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8. Always in touch

You feel compelled to answer every e-mail, text message, tweet, or status update immediately on your many electronic outposts. Or you keep checking to see if someone has responded to your latest e-mail, text message, tweet, or status update. Meanwhile, you're not getting much done.

9. Too much tech

This echoes the previous distraction, because technology diverts you from actual work, such as when you surf the Web, endlessly seeking information. Best solution, he says: Turn it off.

10. Too many meetings

Not all meetings are necessary, or require your presence. "If you can find a way to avoid the unnecessary meetings, you'll have more time to do the necessary work. Guaranteed!" he concludes.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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