How to Stop Getting Sidetracked

How easily can you get sidetracked? I’ve noticed that even when I’m doing a good progress, I might “just check the email” or “just quickly check out some forum”. Checking email can be done with just mouse click, so it’s fast and easy way to get sidetracked (and for the record: as I was typing this text, I almost checked the email! Now I’ll continue).

It’s easy to get sidetracked:

  • Besides emails and forums, other websites and blogs can get you sidetracked.
  • Your co-workers are good at getting you sidetracked.
  • Phone might ring, and get your attention.
  • Instant messaging is nice way to get lose concentration.
  • New ideas might get you sidetracked.

And million other things.

Luckily there are solutions to these problems. I’ve mentioned it earlier that you don’t need to be motivated to work, you need work to be motivated. Some of these distractions (such as checking email, forums, blogs or other websites) are getting you sidetracked simply because they are more fun than what you really need to do. Avoiding that trap can be sometimes really difficult, but the 1-hour solution is a pretty good weapon: it simply says that you would need to keep working for one hour no matter what. Make checking email your reward: after you’ve worked one hour uninterrupted, you may check your email. Training the fine art of delayed gratification is crucial here.

I’ve also realized that finishing what I’ve started has a great impact. If you have several tasks and think that you might lose concentration, then simply focusing on finishing the one task that’s important right now. After you’ve finished the task, you will feel great and be able to continue with some other tasks.

Your own mind might get you distracted: you might get new ideas or remember some things and want to deal with them. They can get you sidetracked easily. The solution is to write down your ideas or simply ignore them for now.

Create an environment where you simply cannot get sidetracked
Phones and instant messaging might get your attention, but here the solution is simple: turn them off. Forward your phone calls if needed. Create an environment where you simply cannot be bothered. If your co-workers bother you – get a blood hound or something and make it really clear that you cannot be bothered right now. Tell them friendly that you’ll deal with them later.

Clear your inner space (mind, focus and so on) and outer space (environment, tools etc.) and you’ll increase the chances for working uninterrupted.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Aw, the rest of my comment got cut off.
    I went on to say, I’m going to write that on a notepad and slap my boss with it. Oh, and then I’m going to blame you. ;) Thanks!

  2. “Create an environment where you simply cannot be bothered.”

  3. Ho ho, the eternal problem. I haven’t got this one sorted but I’m OK at it. For example I do all my emails and sales stat and blog checking in the morning. Then I start work. If I get emails from coworkers I don’t mind replying as it’s about the current project and it takes me forward. Phone ringing is something that can’t really be avoided, but it doesn’t ring much. I try not to load up instant messengers unless I have to for work. New ideas get noted on a to do list for later

    Other distractions include needing a break from the PC so going outside and then finding it’s good weather and staying out maybe too long! Also when my children are at home they sometimes come and see me, but I let them distract me as it’s nice, but then I get back to work and see them properly later.

    Distractions cause two problems a) time loss and b) more improtantly, loss of focus on a difficult task meaning you could mess up or it takes time to get back into it. b) is why I keep a notepad for quick notes on stuff I’m currently working on, so if when testing some code I think of a possible issue, I note it down and carry on my testing. Then if I get distracted and come back later, the issue is noted – I don’t have to rely on my memory. Also if I have to leave code, I put in a marker like ”’ so I can search for the last place I was.

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