Working at Optimal is a lot of fun, but it can also be very distracting. Distractions slice up our days and prevent great work from being done.

The savvy folks at Crew have the same issue. They found that, “the typical diversion caused by email (or similar things, like Slack) is 9 minutes and 30 seconds in length. After that, it takes 16 minutes to resume work on your primary task. The average knowledge worker encounters 87 distractions a day.” The total lost time is staggering.

Our days are chopped up into work moments and not work days; this is stressful. Here are some ways we have eliminated distractions so we can do better work.

Email and Slack

Sometimes it feels like all we do is check email. According to Crew’s research, you spend about 28% of your time doing email. I bet you can think of a better use for all that time.

If you use a chat program like Skype or Slack (like we do), then you have something else vying for your attention.

Email and Slack should help you get work done, not prevent it.

The Importance of Flow

Think of flow like a stream. The water keeps moving despite any obstacles in its path. The same is true of the deep concentration and focus of your mental flow. You keep moving along a singular path to a singular destination.

When we find ourselves in flow, we glance up at the clock and realize that an hour or two has flown by. It’s exhilarating, refreshing, and lot more efficient than stopping and starting every few minutes.

“The power to concentrate was the most important thing. Living without this power would be like opening one’s eyes without seeing anything.” – Haruki Murakami

mind blown

But flow isn’t easy. You have to work at it.

How We Eliminate Obstacles

1. Turn notifications off

If you use a Mac, launch system preferences, click notifications, find the offending app, and click “none.” Whether you think so or not, those notifications are sapping your focus and chopping up your work day.

How to turn off Mac notifications

2. Turn email off

If your primary role is not checking email, then there’s nothing wrong with turning it off. Even removing the app from your dock can restore some of your sanity. Batch checking your email into a couple times a day. I check mine in the morning and the afternoon and don’t think about it once in-between. You might want to check it more frequently, but even every hour or two is a huge improvement over constantly leaving it open.

3. Turn Slack off

Notice, I said turn Slack off, not set yourself as away. That little green light is the only indicator (especially for our remote team) that you are on and working. Setting yourself as away is not clear, and you can forget the setting is even on.

If you need to be away, announce in your team’s general chat room that you’re going offline for X hours or minutes to focus on Y. This tells everyone that you’re working and when they can reach you next. If something is urgent, you can always call someone.

The important thing here is to come back online when you say you are going to. Set a phone reminder or use an app (like Minutes) to be used as a reminder. (Slack, we love you. But sometimes we need some alone time :)).

4. Work remotely

Our office workers can work remotely pretty much whenever they need or want to. Sometimes a scene change is all you need to get into flow. It creates an obvious physical barrier from the normal office interruptions.

5. Tune out

If you don’t already have a pair of noise-canceling headphones, get a pair (like these). Don’t feel rude letting other people know that you’re focusing on something and can’t talk right now. Also, feel free to move to another room whenever you need to take a call or get some alone time.

Awkward Conversation

It’s no exaggeration to say you need alone time…even if it seems like a hyperbole and a half.

6. Single task

There is no such thing as multitasking. It is just a single task changing really, really quickly. It’s taxing and inefficient. Focus on the one thing that adds the most value to your client or organization, get it done, and move on to the next task.

How do you get into flow? Share your tips below!