It’s incredibly hard for me to concentrate. As a blogger, I’m rarely working on one project at a time -- I’m usually working on multiple posts simultaneously, as well as carrying one or two longer-term projects.

Salespeople face the same dilemma. At any given time, you’re working on multiple deals in different stages of the sales process, prospecting, and setting yourself up for your next career move.

It’s no easy feat to juggle this many competing priorities. A nasty side effect of working on so many things at once is that even if you’re focused on one task, your brain is still cranking on your other projects -- and you’re liable to remember a crucial to-do item or be hit by a flash of inspiration while you’re otherwise occupied.

Research suggests that it can take up to 23 minutes to return to full productivity after we’re distracted, and the average American worker is interrupted 56 times a day. Atlassian estimates that we spend a full two hours a day recovering from interruptions. While you can’t stop your colleagues from coming up to your desk for a “quick chat,” you can minimize how often you distract yourself with two old-school items you definitely already have:

  1. Pen
  2. Paper

No, you won’t be using them to build yourself a fort to block out distractions (though that’d be nice). Instead, use this one trick to save yourself time:

When you suddenly think of a task that needs doing (or remember something you’ve forgotten), reach for your paper and write it down. Then, return to your original task.

This is a simple way to put the O.H.I.O. principle, which Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt swears by, into practice. O.H.I.O. stands for “Only Hold It Once” and means that unless something can be taken care of in less than two minutes, you should put it away for later.

The science behind this trick is the Zeigarnik effect, which states that we have a tendency to fixate on unfinished tasks. Our instinct when we think of something that urgently needs doing or that we’ve forgotten about is to start on it right away.

However, splitting your attention between multiple projects hinders your ability to complete either one well. Chances are you won’t be able to complete your forgotten task before you think of something that needs to be added to the one you just interrupted -- and you’ll wind up multitasking, which research shows can lower your IQ to the average range of an eight-year-old.

Instead of trying to rush through uncompleted tasks, you can rest easy knowing your list of things you need to get done is right next to you, and tackle them when you have the time.

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Originally published Jan 12, 2016 7:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017


Sales Productivity