The Distraction Vortex: How I Avoid It

As the owner of a small business, managing your time can be hard. Really hard. Those of us that work at home are surrounded by a million time-sucking temptations on a daily (no, make that hourly) basis. For me, my cats scratch and meow pitifully at my office door. I get sleepy and daydream about going across the hall to take a short two hour nap. I look out my window and think “well, I’m a little slow today so why not go shopping?” Add twitter and facebook and a constant stream of email to the mix and it’s really easy to accomplish nothing in a day. And then a week. And then a month. I’ve been there, and eventually I’ve snapped out of it, but in the meantime I’ve lost countless opportunities, not to mention money.

Here are some tricks I use to stay focused and to get the maximum bang out of every minute of my day.

1. Get a good night’s sleep and eat well. There is nothing harder than being a kickass designer when you’re sleepy. In fact, there’s nothing harder than being a kickass anything when all you want to do is curl up and take a nap. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do (along with keeping your body fueled with healthy, whole foods) goes a long way in keeping your energy levels up throughout the day. One of my new favorite websites is, where you can put in the time you want to get up and it will spit out the time you should get to bed based on 90-minute sleep cycles. (You can also do the inverse, ie tell it what time you want to go to bed, and it will tell you what time to get up). A lot of us will get a good night’s sleep and then avoid eating in such a way that our body stays fueled throughout the day. My body responds well to a high protein, high [healthy] fat diet, so that’s what I stick to. Used to having that mid-afternoon slump where all you really want is sugar? Find a healthy source of protein and get to snackin’. Nuts and jerky are great options. They’ll put some pep in your step and keep you satisfied until dinner.

2. Make a list. I am crazy for lists. I like to make a weekly master list containing all of the things I would like to accomplish. I usually do this late Sunday evening or first thing Monday morning. Once that master weekly list is made, I refer to it each morning and decide what tasks to accomplish that day. Crossing each item off as I complete it gives me some primal sense of accomplishment and makes me feel good. Ridiculous or not, it keeps me going.

3. Dabble in your distractions. It’s perfectly healthy to allow some distractions to seep their way in. Sometimes we need to step away from our work in order to be more productive (a little counter intuitive, I know). If the weather is lovely and you want to be outside, go take a walk. If you feel the urge to go shopping, shop for things you’ve been meaning to buy for the business (books? new office chair? organization items?) Watch a half hour of tv while eating your energizing lunch. A few minutes of feel-good activities won’t kill you or your business, just make sure to budget for the time.

4. Organize your time effectively. Other distractions, like Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, are necessities for running your business. While they can be complete time-sucks, they don’t have to be. Plan out a time each day to focus your efforts on social media (helloooo! that’s marketing!) and email (hellooooo! that’s client/vendor communications!). Instead of arbitrarily hopping online, pick two 30-minute windows for each activity per day and use those bits of time to get online and do what you need to do. Obviously if something major is happening and you need to make an exception, it’s not a problem. And maybe an hour a day isn’t enough or is too much. Figure out what works for YOU and your business and rock with it.

5. Set daily effort goals on each project. Sometimes, we tend to get caught up in one project and then find it difficult to switch gears to another. That’s an emotional response. I want to work on one project, despite the fact that I have another one that needs my attention. Instead of giving in to emotions, I give myself time restrictions. “Today I will dedicate 3 hours to this poster and 3 hours to this brochure.” This helps me stay focused, because I know what I want to accomplish in those 3 hours, so I keep myself moving rather than dilly dallying with tasks outside of what I need to concentrate on.

Designers: How else do you stay focused on your work? What kind of distractions do you find yourself coming up against routinely?

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January 10, 2012  |  Business Tips, Staying Sane
About the author

Melissa Ott is a full time freelance graphic artist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who decided to blog about the things she's learned since starting her business over a year ago. She loves writing, drawing, bumble bees, robots and her two cherished orange tabbies, Jack and Jill. She has a passion for minimalistic design and whimsical children's illustration.



  1. Hi Melissa. Your article was very helpful to me. I am just getting started after more than 20 years in newspaper advertising graphic design. I tend to skip the notes and organization part just to find myself getting bogged down and unfocused. Again, your comments were very helpful. God bless!

    • Congratulations, Eddie!

      It can be hard to focus on the boring part of our work…the note taking, the organization, the general management. However, skipping that stuff makes it far more difficult to concentrate and do well on the fun creative side of things. Take your time and do it right!

      Best wishes!

  2. #1 is a hard one for me. I blow through lunch without even thinking, and I’m often guilty of working until 1:00 or 2:00am, just continuing to work when the inspiration strikes. It’s really hard on the body to do that long term though and I think you’re advice is top notch.

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