Many times when I’m washing the dishes at our house I get about halfway finished before some other task presents its immediate need. It could be a kid needing help washing their hands, or a pet that needs to be let out, maybe some laundry that needs to get put in the dryer. Without fail, the time it should take to finish the dishes somehow multiplies. Every. Single. Time.
Distraction is a very real danger in terms of finishing a project. According to the fine people at harmon.ie, around “45% of employees work 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted.” The Wall Street Journal has a report that indicates once a worker is interrupted, it takes around 23 minutes to get back to their original task.
This drain on time and focus can destroy productivity and motivation. And we all remember why motivation is key to finishing our projects, right?
Without further ado, here are some methods you can add to your project management repertoire to help you reduce distraction.
Have a plan for your project
The more details you can have for you project, the better. Many productive project managers like to use tools such as Gantt charts to plan out projects. Gantt charts have been around since the late 1800’s and are still used on a daily basis. There are many examples of how to set up Gantt charts on the interwebs, but here are a few that I thought were effective and easy to use. The idea behind developing a Gantt chart is to break a project down into as detailed of tasks as possible. Large projects may be sub-divided into thousands of tasks with even further divisions of sub-tasks. Then for each task you assign the estimated time it would take to finish the task. Because one cannot begin every task at the same time, tasks are staggered based on their estimated start date. Tasks that depend on the completion of earlier tasks are penciled in farther to the right side of the page.
Maintain a flow state
You’ve probably already heard about the psychology of “flow state”, but if not, here is a primer. The theory of flow state was developed in the 1970’s by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. During a flow state, someone becomes entranced in the task at hand to the point where time slips away, motivation remains at a high level, and other needs become negligible.
Entering and remaining in the flow state during a project can exponentially increase your ability to finish tasks, but some effort is required to promote this environment. To promote entering a flow state it helps to turn off your phone (or at least switch to silent), log off of social media like facebook and Twitter, isolate yourself in a calm environment, and keep moving once you begin your task.
There are even some apps you can install on your web browser like Work Mode and StayFocusd that can help you overcome your addiction to steams of 140 characters.
Set a schedule to re-evaluate your tasks
In my experience, large projects usually have one or two tasks that unhinge a plan needlessly. Just because a task is written down as part of a project plan, many times it doesn’t necessarily have to be completed to accomplish the larger goal. There are many ways to crack an egg. I routinely set up alerts in my calendar to remind me to evaluate my project plan every couple of months or so. These reminders allow me to step back and assess if the original plan is the best path for finishing the project. While finishing my thesis in grad school I worked for months on a certain type of experiment. My mentor asked me one day if I had contemplated other ways of finding the same data. I had not. After thinking about other avenues, I restructured my plan and had publishable data within a week. Don't underestimate the ease at which you can get lost in a rabbit hole.
As always, if you have questions or comments feel free to leave them in the comment section below. We’ll be back next week with the #3 reason your project isn’t finished yet, “Waiting for the right resources”.