Far too many people mistake perpetual motion for productivity. We all know people who seem nearly frantic but don't accomplish much and others who are extremely productive and make their activity seem effortless.

The truth is that productivity is much more nuanced than just perpetual motion. This article will help you maximize productivity by learning how common "switches" (distractions) can sap productivity, how to develop "switchbusters" to avoid those productivity pitfalls, and how to recognize the role that personal and business rhythms play in productivity.


Switches—or distractions—are the most common reason people feel they don't have enough time. Switches can sabotage your productivity by pulling your attention away from more valuable activities into those that are less valuable. Let's discuss how and when some of the most common switches occur and outline strategies to better manage them.

External Switches

Some of the most persistent switches in today's world are the digital and electronic devices clamoring for your attention. Voicemail, text, instant messages, email, and ringing phones are particularly vexing switches because they are pervasive and seemingly innocuous. "This will only take a second."

Another persistent switch, the "quick question" falls in the same category. Rather than allowing quick questions and messages to constantly interrupt you, schedule regular times to read and respond to messages and calls, and discuss questions with colleagues. Once you have a schedule, let other people know about it and stick to it.

Internal Switches

We've talked about external distractions, but what about internal or "self" switches?

A common internal switch is one that I like to call "refresh addiction," the need to constantly check for new email, text, or voice messages. I put refresh addiction in the internal category because your mind has become accustomed to checking, regardless of outside notification. In fact, studies show that this urge to check messages is similar to compulsive gambling. You can combat refresh addiction with the same switchbuster you used for external message reminders: scheduling a time to check for messages.

Ideas are the second most common internal switch. Many people are excellent idea generators, but many find that their thoughts interrupt their work, forcing them to consider new ideas rather than focus on the task at hand. You can avoid these interruptions by capturing ideas in a designated place. Your gathering point might be a notepad, or an email or voicemail message you send to yourself. Make sure you use only one gathering point and use it consistently.

Attempting to make decisions as soon as you get new information is another focus-stealing switch. Instead, set aside time for processing decisions. I recommend that the average person plan for about five hours of processing time each week. The goal is to hold off decision-making until your scheduled processing time and use the rest of your work time to execute on those decisions.

Screen addiction—the tendency to be drawn to a computer monitor, TV, or mobile device—is an extremely seductive switch. The simple switchbuster I recommend for screen addiction is to turn off the screen or walk away from it when working on something else. Of course, if you need the computer to do your work, leave it on. But if you're having a conversation with someone and don't need the computer, turning off the monitor or walking away from it will help you maintain your focus.

The last internal switch is very common—impatience. In our digital world, we have come to expect instant responses. When we query a search engine, access a website or call technical support, we want an immediate answer.

Many people will begin another task when they become impatient during a wait. If you're going to be on hold for a long time, then doing something else might be appropriate. But in most cases it's better to use waiting time to gather your focus. Rather than making a switch, take a moment to relax, or think about what you're going to do once the wait is over. If you use waiting time to relax and focus, you'll actually get more done than if you fill every second with some activity.

The final switches deal with rhythm, in particular your personal rhythm and that of your business. For example, if you operate in an interruption-driven business such as technical support or healthcare, the best approach is to schedule less in your day.

Allowing some breathing room between appointments gives you the leeway to temporarily delay the activities you've scheduled and manage the interruption. Consider your personal rhythm too. Are you a morning person or an evening person? Do you get tired after lunch? Every person has a unique physiological rhythm. By recognizing and harnessing that rhythm you'll be more productive.

I encourage you to implement what you've learned in this article by taking the following four actions:

  1. Think about activities that you perform regularly. Can you schedule them together to reduce switching cost?
  2. If you're in a highly interruption-driven business, make a commitment to schedule less activity in your day.
  3. Take a moment to review the rhythm of your business to determine which times of the day or the week are best for certain activities.
  4. Schedule time for your most valuable activities during the peak personal productivity times of the day.

Every switch you may make from one job to another is a loss of productivity, a loss of time, and an increase in stress.

It's impossible to completely eliminate all the switches in your life. But the more you can reduce switches, the more focused you can be on your most valuable activities.

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Dave Crenshaw is a best-selling author, speaker, and business coach who has transformed thousands of businesses worldwide.

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Twitter: @Dave Crenshaw