Want to get work done and keep your business successful? Learn when to ignore that ringing cell phone and prioritize what needs to be done. Minimize distractions to maximize your success.

Recently I have written about the importance of being focused on what you want. In tough times, many businesses focus on surviving instead of thriving. So, what happens? Their businesses survive, and sometimes, just barely. Avoiding doesn’t work. When in the survival mode, opportunities are missed because your focus does not allow seeing or being aware of those opportunities. The fact is: what you focus on is what you get.  

Success in any endeavor is the result of focused time. Focus or energy well directed is the single most important ingredient for success. Focus requires our minds to be able to see a clear result or outcome. The power of focus is that our subconscious will provide solutions to the “how,” if we provide the “what” or the clear result that is desired. Vision is defined as the clearest possible picture of a future desired result.  

However, our minds can only focus on one thing at a time. It’s why there are so many accidents when people try to drive and talk, text or eat at the same time. Being excellent at multi-tasking is a myth. Focus fails if our minds are distracted and jumping around.

During my recent travels as I sat in an airport, I looked up and observed that my fellow travelers were oblivious to what was going on around them, concentrating on something in their hands. There were five people on the shuttle I rode from the parking lot to the airport; all five were oblivious to each other and focused on the cell phone in their hands. Hate to say it but so was I. We were all looking for that next text message or email.

What are we waiting and watching for? What’s so urgent? We have moved from communicating by long distance from the “pony express” to mail, to FedEx, to fax, and now to instant messaging and email. One time, we patiently waited; not anymore. We want our communications and we want them now!

My 16-year-old son is even more addicted than I am. He won’t phone his friends, but he text messages. When he’s not texting, he’s on Facebook or listening to music on the phone. He rarely responds to us because his earphones block our voices. (By the way, I am on Facebook. I notice that, in the middle of a workday, many of my working friends are perusing the site.)

As I discuss my concerns of his “connectedness” with his phone, my son asks, “What’s your point?  Everyone is doing it.” Here’s my point. These devices are supposed to make us more productive. However, their misuse causes us stress and anxiety, and most of all they distract us from the laser-like focus we need in order to be successful and highly productive.  

In a study done by Hewlett-Packard, the average worker’s functioning IQ falls 10 points when distracted by ringing phones and incoming emails…more than double the four-point drop seen in studies on smoking marijuana. In addition, the study also found that 62% check emails while they are out of the office and 50% of all workers respond to emails within 60 minutes.

We owe it to ourselves to get the most out of everything we do. We can’t allow our addiction to cell phones, the Internet, or the interruptions of others to interfere when we need to focus. In a study of 500 corporations, the biggest reason for failure in sales and life was “poor use of time due to lack of focus.” Studies by the Families and Work Institute found that 55% of workers are overwhelmed by how much work they have to accomplish. Forty-five percent feel they have to carry out too many jobs at once and multitask too often in order to keep up. Ninety percent strongly agree that they work too fast and too hard and never have enough time to get a job done properly. Why then, are we on Facebook in the middle of the workday?

Time matters, all the time. In our busy lives, we will never run out of things to do or things that compete for our attention. It’s imperative to develop the habit of figuring out what, when and whom to ignore.  

What should you ignore? When you have a need to focus ignore ringing phones or the sounds that indicate you have a new text message or email. Better yet, since it takes at least 15 minutes to return to a focused state once interrupted, turn off the ringers of your computer and cell phone. Set times that you will check emails and return messages so that you cannot be distracted from your highly productive focused state.

Whom shall you ignore? You should ignore the people who are more interested in their own priorities than your own. Learn to say “no.” Many of us add stress and anxiety to our lives by not knowing how to say “no” diplomatically.

Limit your socializing. Ignore people who stop by your office to socialize. There is a time and a place to network and build important relationships. If you don’t choose to take control of your time, you choose to allow others to. Send a message when you want quiet time. Learn to shut the door of your office. Stand up when people walk in your office; don’t allow them to sit down and get comfortable. Rearrange your furniture. If you really want to prove your point, cut the front legs of the chairs in your office shorter than the back legs so that if anyone stops to visit they can’t stay long. If you have to, work from home to avoid the people that distract your focus. After an interruption, get back to what you were doing quickly.

Focus actually frees up time. Rather than consuming a person, it liberates. In business, if you want to thrive, you must focus on increasing sales and worker productivity, improving margins and lowering operating expenses. Everything else is a distraction. You must be disciplined to minimize your distractions and interruptions to maintain your focus. You must figure out what, when and whom to ignore. Turn off your cell phone; you might get something done.