Do you find yourself getting to the end of the day and wondering where the time went? Maybe you started out prepared to accomplish some very specific tasks, but somehow you just didn't get to them. Putting out fires and dealing with lesser issues can pull people away from longer-term goals. But if that happens every day, chances are you won't be in business much longer.
Here are eight ways to prevent letting distractions damage your productivity:
1. Make and post a list: There's no point in making a list if it ends up under all of your unopened mail at the end of the day. Post it right where you will see it every time you look up, answer the phone or turn to your computer. By keeping it within your field of sight you can also keep it top-of-mind.
2. Shut your door: I know this seems like the opposite of good management practice. Aren't you supposed to be available to employees when they have a problem? Well, if you aren't focusing on your business they will definitely have a problem -- finding another job. Right now as an entrepreneur it's company first, employees second. And maybe if they can't reach you they will take some initiative and solve their own problems.
3. Stand up when someone comes into your office: This means that your visitor can't sit down and most people will get tired of standing and leave when their business with you is done. If someone is particularly long-winded despite standing, come around your desk and walk them out the door and down the hall. Then excuse yourself and head back to your office.
4. Limit outside attention grabbers: How often do you check email, Facebook, your cellphone? Do you take your own calls or leave that to a front-office person? Can potential suppliers get instant access to you when they walk in your office door? Every one of these is pulling you away from your main business. Schedule specific times to address these outside issues so that you have uninterrupted time to do your real job.
5. Get to the bottom of procrastination: Putting something critical off may be a matter of emotion rather than distractions. Are you afraid that you don't have the skills to accomplish something important to your business? Do you feel that you don't have enough information to do a good job? Are you nervous about the next step after your current project? Really spend time with a pencil and paper looking at the reasons why you aren't tackling something and then figure out how to fix them.
6. Take small bites: This is anti-procrastination advice but it's true whenever you have a hectic work day and don't seem to get to those large projects. If you get started, you can accomplish more than you think with an extra 15-20 minutes every now and then throughout the day. Don't wait for large blocks of time to get started or you may never get to it.
7. Clear your desk: if you're ready to dive into a large project, clear your work area of other smaller duties. It's so easy to catch sight of something that will only take a couple of minutes and stop working on the big stuff to address the little things. Don't let visual distractions cost you important focused time.
8. Just do it: Close your door, turn off your phone, clear your desk and get started. Put a sign outside your office door with something like, "If it's not bleeding, burning or quitting, tell me tomorrow." If you remove all excuses and distractions, you may actually accomplish some of your main business goals even sooner than you expect.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.