How many times a day would you say you’re distracted from your work? Five? Ten? Any idea how costly these distractions really are?

A 2007 study by Basex estimated that distractions cost U.S. businesses $588 billion per year. And what with the popularity of mobile devices making it much too easy to disrupt anyone’s day, my guess is it’s much higher by now.

So what do you think these distractions amount to in time and money, never mind sanity? Do you believe that a five-minute interruption robs you of only five minutes? Nope.  It takes the human brain about seven minutes to refocus, so you’re looking at a whopping 12 minutes.

If that doesn't seem like much, look at it this way. Let’s say that you allow employees, clients, friends, and family members free access to you all day long. And let’s say that you keep your email and social media sites open while you work. I’m going to take a modest guess of this leading to about 20 distractions a day. Now I'll estimate that you get side-tracked for about four minutes each time you drift off course, (laughable, I know).  Add those seven minutes it takes to regain your focus and that’s over three-and-a-half hours a day.  To be exact, based on 260 work days in a year, it’s 952 hours. Imagine what you could do with some of that time back in your day.

Realistically, many of these interruptions are legit and need to be addressed, and many do not. But you get the point. These phone calls, knocks on the door, and your constant attention to social media and email are costing you--big time.

So what can you do about it? It’s not just a matter of designating times to check emails and return calls. That would be far too easy. What about all of those people who “need” you all day long?  As I tell my clients, you teach people how to treat you. When you develop the pattern of taking calls from mom, giving clients and employees instant access to you, and jumping to attention every time your text notification sings to you, you’re teaching people that it’s OK to interrupt you as often as they please.

Now it’s not going to be easy to change their behavior, or your own, but the payoff is well worth it. Here are a few things that may help.

Keep employees and contractors well informed.

If you have standard operating procedures in place, along with scheduled meetings and project guidelines, your team should be able to find most of their answers without interrupting you. Get employees involved in creating these documents so they are well aware of their existence. When someone knocks on your door for an answer to something that is already in writing don’t give it to them. Politely request that they check the manual instead and that they continue to do so in the future. Also let them know when you cannot be interrupted and give yourself two-hour windows of time to focus on your projects.

Explain the new rules to friends and family.

Those who care for you will understand what’s at stake here. Tell them that you are excited about all of the opportunities to grow your business and that you intend to get hyper-focused. Let them know that they can help. To make it easier for them offer a window of time during the day when you’ll be available for a brief chat, like after hours.

Create customer service policies.

How many large corporations can you call and gain instant access to the owner or CEO? Right. So why do you give your clients instant access to you? Think of the message it sends. If you make the mistake of being at your clients’ beck and call they will perceive that you don’t have any other business.  Let them leave a voicemail and designate a time or two each day to return those calls. Another advantage here is that you won’t be caught off guard. Typically, they will leave some hint about what they want to discuss and you will have the answers when you return their call.

Understand your avoidance tendencies.

You may tell yourself that you have to stay on top of email and social media updates all day long, but I’m going to challenge you on that. In my experience most entrepreneurs use this misguided belief to avoid doing what they should be doing. Keep your action list up to date to make it easier to choose your next task and when you get into the avoidance mode take a moment to consider why.  Once you face your avoidance head on it may kick you into a higher gear. If this issue surfaces frequently, it’s time for a coach.

Published on: Jul 29, 2013
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