EROIt happens to all of us. You spent 10 mins at the end of the day planning the next day, then when you get up the next day something happens that distracts you or puts you in a bad mood, triggering you to lose focus and the rest of your day becomes collateral damage. This post will help you put in place a simple two part solution for this common problem.

The two aspects we’ll explore are:

  1. Reducing the likelihood of distraction; and,
  2. Reacting to events that frustrate you and put you in a bad mood.

Aspect 1: Reducing the likelihood of distraction

Create the right environment

This is all about creating an environment for yourself that fosters productivity. For example, let’s say you have a strong desire to eat fattening chips but you want to reduce the amount of chips you eat to lose weight. Due to your shopping habits your pantry has a shelf full with 10 bags of chips and you’re trying to resist eating them using your impressive will power. Every time you open the pantry and even when you don’t, there will be a temptation to open a bag of chips. One day you’ll be in a bad mood, or you’ll be really excited by how much you got done that day that you feel like you can indulge yourself a bit… and now you’ve just started eating chips again!

To create an environment that fosters productivity and supports your objectives, you would stop stocking the pantry with chips in the first place. This way there is no temptation to distract you.

Apply this concept to your workplace by setting up your environment for success. A simple thing that has a lot of value is to turn off email notifications on your email client – these notifications can really distract you if you end up clicking into one and getting drawn away from what you wanted to achieve that day.

Exercise to try: Gather some data by making a note of every time you get distracted or an event occurs that changes your mood over a few days. Then analyse these events to determine the cause of your distraction and identify changes you can make to your environment that reduce the likelihood of these distractions occurring. Implement the changes and you’re well on your way to creating a high productivity environment for yourself.


Avoid checking email first thing in the morning

Checking email can lead to 1-2 hours disappearing while you read and respond and get pulled away from your plan for the day. Instead, start with your most important task for the first few hours of the day.

Start early

Getting up early and getting into work before the peak can give you an hour free from interruptions that allows you to get in the zone on your most important tasks. The momentum you build up will carry you well into the day and you’ll feel very productive as you tick off your tasks.

Aspect 2: Reacting to events that frustrate you and put you in a bad mood

This is about improving how you react to events. Here’s a simple formula to keep in mind:

E + R = O

Event + Reaction = Outcome

For example, say you have been productively working on your most important task since you started work (early), and at 10am you break to check and process your emails. You read an email that contains some pretty severe criticism of a piece of work you recently delivered (Event).

Now if you react with an immediate angry ‘Reply All’ (Reaction), the best you’re going to get is lost time that you spent fuming, composing and re-composing that response before sending it. At worst, you could damage your reputation that you build up after months of hard work (Outcome).

The opposite reaction would be to take it in a positive light (Reaction), either not to respond or to address the criticism with a calm and brief reply that to say ‘Yes and here’s what we are doing about this’. The outcome will be much better and build your reputation as someone who can deal with tough situations in a positive way (Outcome).

Getting over it quickly

If you can’t take the criticism in a positive light, then the best thing to do is get over the issue quickly and move on to immediately re-focus on your plan for the day again. Don’t hold grudges and let issues fester.

I think ‘getting over it quickly’ is the key to stopping mood swings from turning the rest of your day into collateral damage due to one bad thing that you could have easily ignored and moved on from.

Avoid feeling entitled

Sometimes when you’ve worked in a company for a few years you start to feel entitled to respect and proper treatment by your colleagues. This feeling has a way of making you quick to anger when you feel you’ve been criticised, and this increases the likelihood of an impulsive reaction derailing you from achieving your objectives. As the feeling of entitlement shows through in your reactions you can also damage your reputation.

Remember – Even the biggest company in the world must be humble in front of its customers! Otherwise they will lose their customers! Apply this concept by making sure you don’t forget the fundamentals of checking in with your peers and managers face to face to always keep them informed. Also, react as you would if this were your last month in the job. This will keep you humble when you perceive that you may be getting unfair treatment.

How to work on improving your reactions

1% a day! Or simply, small changes will get you there rather than attempting some magical immediate transformation. This can only happen over time as you build these ideas into your default behaviour:

  1. E+R=O; and,
  2. Getting over it quickly; and,
  3. Avoid feeling entitled.

Work on recognising when an event occurs that you want to react to, and behave using these ideas. Make a note of what the event was and how you were able to react in a positive way that didn’t hamper your productivity. At the end of the week as you travel home from work, read over these notes. This will re-enforce this way of thinking and slowly build it into your natural behaviour.

What methods have you found help you to reset your mood and regain your focus after being distracted?