It happened to me again, just this morning. Following my system for generating creative ideas, I got out of bed and walked two miles at a brisk pace and steep incline on the treadmill, followed by a shower. Sure enough, my creativity kicked in, and an idea for an article came up. I captured the headline. I must have had it all in my head by the time I came out of the shower.

But as I sat by my computer, I realized there were a few urgent things on my calendar to deal with first. I also remembered a few additional items that were not on my calendar. Those seemed to be pretty short tasks, maybe 10 to 20 minutes each. I thought I could knock them all out in the next hour or so.

So I wrote down the headline for the article, and started working on those short urgent items. Not surprisingly, a call came in, which needed to be dealt with right away as well. Oh, and did I mention that there were a couple of emails that I had to respond to and, of course, a few Facebook messages that I simply couldn't let go unanswered?

By the time I responded to the last email, there was a response to one of my first ones, so I had to reply again. Progress was made!

Finally, at 11 a.m., almost five hours after I got on my treadmill (and more than four after I had an idea for the article), I was free to write the article. But my inspiration and creativity had already left me. Handling those urgent, albeit short, tasks drained all my energy. Some of those tasks had upset me. I stared at the headline, not remembering what I was going to write below it. So I started improvising, but it wasn't a good article. So I didn't publish it.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Here is what you should do to avoid this conundrum.

1. Save those short tasks for the latter part of your day

Leave the most creative part of your day, the morning, for activities that require creativity and inspiration. You will lose your creativity as the day progresses. Don't even go over your emails at the start of the day, because you will likely not have the discipline to not answer them right then. Also, some of them may upset you, and they will weigh on you throughout the day until you actually address them.

2. When a new short activity comes up, put it on the calendar so you don't forget, but don't handle it now

Ask yourself how urgent this activity really is. Would the world come to a standstill if you did it in the afternoon? Tomorrow? If you will miss an opportunity if you don't reply within the next hour--then, by all means, reply now. But how often is there an opportunity in your inbox with a one-hour shelf life?

3. Eliminate all distractions, and specifically alerts

With almost every app you have on your device, there is the opportunity to get alerts. Most often--it is the default. Every time such an alert pops up at the bottom right of the screen, it takes your attention away from what you are doing.

4. Silence your phone

Better yet, put it in another room. You don't answer it while you are in the shower or the restroom. Right? So nothing will happen if people can't reach you for an hour or so. They will leave a message. And you will call them back. Later.

5. Focus on the task at hand

Do only that. Until you are done. When you are done, you will have plenty of time to do those pesky, short, urgent tasks that drain your creativity.

Published on: Mar 14, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.