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How to Best Focus on Your to-do Lists and Manage Distractions

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According to new data, obsessing over your to-do list is counterproductive.

Highly established people in business seem to have one form of to-do lists that they rely on. Barbara Corcoran manages several lists on her phone simultaneously. Jeff Chapin of Casper favors sticky notes. The CEO of Postmates, Bastian Lehmann leans more on apps in the mold of Clear. Randi Zuckerberg utilizes multiple alarms that jolt her back to action.

There are many variables on any given day that can disrupt your rhythm. Variables such as impromptu meetings, random customer complaints, and the likes. Sometimes everything is excellent but your body is just not at 100% perhaps due to inadequate sleep and coffee is not always a sure-fire solution.

It is natural to try to focus on the tasks at hand without a waver in a bid to maximize productivity but according to new data from studies carried out in the University of Texas, University of Maryland and UCLA, this approach is not necessarily the best for you. The study tried to compare the more traditional ‘time management planning” to ‘contingent planning.”

Contingent planning as the name suggests makes room for unexpected disruptions that will inevitably come up in the course of your day and thus allows you to plan your day around them. The researchers summarized their findings in the Harvard Business Review says: “Contingent planning is less commonly used than time-management planning because individuals frequently make plans that overestimate how much they will get done and underestimate (or fail altogether) to account for how their work will be disrupted,”

Over 14 days, the researchers observed the work of over 180 employees across various industries, and they discovered that time management planning helped achieve results for participant’s engagement in their work and day to day output.

However, this method of planning doesn’t hold up very well when you have a considerable amount of interruptions. It was observed that the days that had disruptions taking up to 20 percent of the time really affected the effectiveness of the time management planning. On the flip side, employees who made use of the daily contingent planning were able to still achieve positive results despite unexpected distractions.

“While the benefits of time-management planning are less effective when interruptions occur, contingent planning continued to be beneficial regardless of the level of interruptions employees faced,” the researchers noted.

Distractions are a constant part of everyday life, and it is crucial to acknowledge this as motivation to make the best use of your time and not as a failing.
If this time management style makes sense to you, let us know in the comment section.

CEO of Penske Media Group. Experienced Content Editor with a demonstrated history of working in the newspapers industry. Spoken on stages around the globe - NYU, US Embassy, P&G Toronto and much more.

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