18: Five ways to manage distractions better

I’m writing about one hundred things I’ve learned about being a product manager.

As product managers, our workload intensity tends to be cyclical and sometimes these cycles can stack up.  Distractions can seriously dent your ability to Get Stuff Done™, so here are five things you can try out to manage distractions more effectively.

Everyone seems to want a piece of a product manager.  I don’t know whether it’s down to our natural charisma or simply because we happen to know pretty much everything 

Everyone seems to want a piece of a product manager.  I don’t know whether it’s down to our natural charisma or simply because we happen to know pretty much everything about our products and are helpful people (sadly, I suspect it’s the latter).  As a consequence, people soon figure out that the quickest way to answer a product question is to ask the product manager.

Distraction

While this is usually a good thing, if you’re trying to concentrate on a single task that requires your full attention (say, writing a business case), these questions in person, via phone, email or instant messaging (IM) all serve to distract you from the task in hand.  Each distraction causes you to lose your train of thought and it typically takes you about five to ten minutes to get back into the groove.  A few of those per hour and it’s easy to see how this slows you down.

So as practical measures try the following:

  1. Set your phone to direct all calls to voicemail, or if you can’t, turn off the ringer
  2. Set an out of office message and close your email client, or if you really can’t, discipline yourself only to check your emails for a set amount of time at specific points of the day
  3. Sign out of your instant messaging client
  4. Stop people disturbing you at your desk by working from a different part of the office or at home
  5. Block out time in your diary for your own tasks, don’t allow people to book you into meetings

Needless to say, you can’t hide from everyone for ever, but these temporary measures will at least allow you to focus on putting out the biggest fires.

Do you have your own ways to manage distractions?  Why not share them in the comments?

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