We all get sidetracked from time to time. With me, it can take on epidemic proportions if I am under a lot of pressure or if I’m running tired. Over the past few years I’ve come up with five ways I use to get myself back on track with what I was doing.
The first step to getting back on track is to know that you are off track. Usually if I am in the middle of something, I will take a deep breath and ask myself if this is what I am supposed to be doing at that moment. If it isn’t, the awareness can be enough to bring me back to where I need to be.
Wrap up in X Minutes
After I realize that I am sidetracked, and I am fairly close to being finished with the task that distracted, I tell myself I have 5 minutes to finish. I then set a timer. The timer keeps me honest, and puts a deadline on that allows me to finish quickly.
If I don’t realize that I have been sidetracked, and I have proceeded to use large chunks of time on something unplanned, I generally force myself to drop it where it is and move on. I also find that in order for this one to work, I must physically remove myself from the site of the distraction. For example, if I went to the computer to print out a list and 2 hours later I find I have spent the time surfing, I will stop, turn the computer off, and go to another room where I have something that needs to be done. This is not a gentle method, but I find it necessary to combat large amounts of lost time.
Write Up, Move On
In the case where I find myself doing something that has value, and would not be easy to get back to, but would take more than 5 minutes, I make some notes at the physical location I am at, and then walk away. For example, if I got sidetracked inventorying the freezer, I leave a sticky note on the freezer with the shelf I left off on. I can then go back to it easily after I have completed my other tasks.
Go With It
Sometimes (rarely), I will realize that I’m distracted, but the thing I am doing has value. I will assess what I need to do between the time and bed, and how much work I have to do. Then, if time permits, I will allow myself to go with the distraction. This method works well for me on weekends or days when I have large amounts of free time, and few must-do tasks.