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7 Stupid Distractions Every Leader Should Eliminate


Ever notice your day seems to vaporize and you wonder what happened to all your best intentions?

You’re ready to leave work but you barely even dented your to-do list. As a result, you’re going to have to try to justify squeezing an hour of work in once you get home, or just get up at a ridiculous hour tomorrow to try again.

Not only is that pattern unsustainable, it’s mysterious. You try not to have it happen again, but it does anyway.

So…what causes that?

At the root of it is likely repeated patterns and behaviors.

New patterns, habits and approaches can change everything, and that’s what I show you in The High Impact Leader course (which is in its final hours at current pricing.) If you’ve ever thought about joining, now’s the time!

There’s also another problem more leaders struggle with than ever before, and that’s distraction.

As research and experiments have shown, workers get interrupted as often as every 11 minutes during the workday, and it takes 25 minutes to refocus after each interruption. The math doesn’t even exactly add up, but you get the point. That’s why it feels impossible to get anything done.

The brand new approach to work and life I share in the High Impact Leader has improved things for thousands of people, but in the meantime, here are 7 stupid things that interrupt your day that simply don’t need to.

Get rid of these distractions today and you’ll have a better tomorrow.

1. Push Notifications

Every single app in the world starts off its relationship with you by asking “Allow Push Notifications?”

Your automatic answer as a leader should be no. Every single time (except one…I tell you which exception I think you should make below).

You don’t really need to know everytime someone sends you an email. Similarly, it’s useless to be notified every time someone comments on your Instagram.

Why? Well, think of push notifications as someone tapping you on the shoulder. If someone tapped you on the shoulder somewhere between 30-300 times a day every day, you would either punch them or get a restraining order.

Every time your phone vibrates, that’s what’s happening.

And don’t think the people you’re in real life conversation with aren’t bothered by your constantly buzzing phone and your incessant need to check your screen. It’s hard to respect or follow a distracted leader.

It's hard to respect or follow a distracted leader. Click To Tweet

Being busy isn’t a sign of respect anymore. It’s a sign you’re not managing your time or priorities well.

I disabled push notifications on my phone and turned on the Do Not Disturb on my devices a few years ago. I don’t miss the constant buzzing at all. Nor do my friends and family.

Instant notifications about your messages aren’t that important.

Actually, I’m not actually that important. With all due respect, neither are you.

Being busy isn't a sign of respect anymore. It's a sign you're not managing your time well. Click To Tweet

2. Text Messages

You’re probably thinking, I get the part about not getting notifications about Instagram, but come on, text messages? Miss those, too?

Here’s what I’ve done with my text messages. Before I tell you, know that I do not give out my cell number freely. Not a lot of people have it. Even then, I don’t want to be a slave to it.

So, I allow push notifications for text messages, but I keep my phone on Do Not Disturb, which means I don’t feel them or hear them.

When I’m ready to take a break, I pull out my phone and do a quick check. That way they don’t interrupt me.

But wait, you argue. I can’t miss any text messages. What about my wife and my kids? What about my super important projects?

First, remember when you were a kid? Your parents had no idea where you were, and after a few hours, they’d call the neighbors. You survived. So did they.

Ditto with work. People used to get work done at work. Remember those days? Now you don’t get any work done at work, and constant interruption is one of the reasons.

What’s happened is you’ve confused importance with urgency. Texts may be important, but mostly they’re not that urgent if you’re going to look at your phone every hour anyway.

But wait, you say, what’s if it’s a true emergency?

Well, if you’re waiting for a new kidney and the doctor is texting you that you need to come to the hospital right this second or you lose the organ, sure…keep your phone on.

But that’s not what ruined your day last Tuesday. In fact, you can’t even remember what the texts that ruined last Tuesday were about, can you?

Nope, you can’t.

Which is why you should ignore what’s going on on your phone until you’re ready to take a break.

The planet will keep spinning. I promise you.

And you will get more done.

Text messages may be important, but they're not nearly as urgent as you think they are. Click To Tweet

3. Your Idle Curiosity

The challenge of working in an online environment is that the world is literally at your fingertips.

The distractions are a click or tap away. It takes tremendous self-discipline not to go down the rabbit-hole of the internet, from social media to mindless Googling of things that really don’t’ matter, like the surface area of the sun or who invented the straight-razor.

Curiosity is a great thing, but idle curiosity that produces nothing…not so much.

We blame our office environment, co-workers, endless email or whatever. But eliminate all those things, and you still have you to contend with.

I don’t need an enemy. I have one. It’s a perpetually distracted me.

You don’t need an enemy. You have one. It’s a perpetually distracted you.

You don't need an enemy. You have one. It's a perpetually distracted you. Click To Tweet

4. Inefficient Email

If you can’t totally escape email entirely (I’ve experimented with that in seasons), limit it.

Turning off push notifications is a great start, but it won’t solve all your problems.

Try changing your email practices from ‘always checking all the time’ (which is the default for almost all of us) to tiny pockets where you check it at different points in the day.

For example, try doing a small window of say 15 minutes in the morning to make sure nothing’s on fire. 90% of the time, things aren’t on fire.

Then come back to email at a set time later in the day and pound through it. Do it when your energy is a little lower, and spend your best energy instead on the tasks that are most important to you that day.

That way when you get home, you’ll have accomplished something significant and not spent your time on things that matter less.

The less time you spend on email, the less it will consume you.

Second, don’t manage or lead by email.

Here’s how it happens to most leaders. Someone thinks of an issue, so they send an email. Someone adds a thought, and they reply all.

A conversation that might take 5 minutes in person (or less) drags on a through a series of useless replies that go on for days.

We’ve adopted some practices on my team that have helped.

First, don’t email people about everything. If you have an issue that could be just as easily handled by phone or in person, park it on a list (use something like Asana or Wunderlist to keep track).

Then, once you have a list of 5-15 items, do a simple 15-minute check-in phone meeting or stand-up meeting in person to handle them all. You’ll be way more efficient.

Similarly, if a direct report emails me something that’s not urgent, I’ll just ask them to wait until our weekly meeting with it. It can almost always wait.

If it’s truly urgent and there will be a lot of back and forth, pick up and phone and call or do a quick text exchange. People are always shorter on text than on email.

Not everything is urgent, so don’t treat it like it is.

Not everything is urgent, so don’t treat it like it is. Click To Tweet

5. Too Many Meetings

We live in meetings, and our productivity dies in them. Meetings are a huge distraction in a world where leaders often simply need to get work done.

Patrick Lencioni, Al Pittampali and others have effectively critiqued the way most leaders live in meetings.

We live in meetings, and our productivity dies in them. Click To Tweet

If I’m not careful, I can spend three-quarters of my week in meetings and have only a few hours left over for writing messages and leading what matters most.

Meetings expand to fill the time you’ve set aside for them. So just set aside less time.

Meetings expand to fill the time you’ve set aside for them. So just set aside less time. Click To Tweet

6. An Open Schedule

Chance are you only write appointments with others and meetings in your schedule, right?

Big mistake.

Make appointments with yourself. Write in writing time, thinking time, date nights with your spouse, family time —everything you need to get done.


Then when someone asks to meet, you can say you have a commitment. If it’s truly important, schedule them in during your next available slot.

I show you exactly how to do that in the High Impact Leader, and right now we’re including free iCal and GoogleCal High Impact Leader templates with the course so that you can get your life and leadership.

An open schedule is a guarantee you’ll spend your time on everyone else’s priorities, not yours.

Conversely, a fixed calendar can fix your life.

An open schedule is a guarantee you'll spend your time on everyone else's priorities, not yours. Click To Tweet

7. Conversations Without A Purpose

Conversations can waste tons of time. And they happen all the time to leaders.

Sometimes you feel trapped in one.

What do you do when someone corners you?

Be pleasant and move on. You’ve got work to do.

Turn that 20-minute conversation into a two-minute conversation. Be pleasant, thank them and if need be, tell them you were on your way to get something done. Then go do it.

If you work in an actual office, close the door or put a sign on the door that you’re doing focused work.

If you’re in an open office, you can even devise a signal with co-workers that lets them know you’re not free to chat. I’ve seen leaders put a small orange traffic cone or another kind of marker on their desk that effectively says “do not disturb.”

If you can shut down meaningless conversations, you’ll ramp up your productivity.

If you can shut down meaningless conversations, you'll ramp up your productivity. Click To Tweet

Move Beyond Hacks – Get Your Life and Leadership Back

If you want to truly change your life and leadership, focus on changing the systems that run your life.

It’s not getting up early in the morning that makes a difference, it’s learning how to manage the hours you have, how to optimize them that makes the difference.

One of the most helpful changes that I’ve made is making the shift to a fixed calendar that has allowed me to get my time, energy, and priorities working for me, instead of against me (which they will naturally do).

I’d love to help you get time, energy and priorities working for you too.

To that end, I’m giving away the calendar template I use with leaders. It can help you structure your time in a way that helps you get far more done in less time.

You can download the High Impact Leader Calendar Template here. 

What About You?

What distractions keep you from being productive?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

7 Stupid Distractions Every Leader Should Eliminate


  1. […] He also trained as a lawyer, so I sense we’re on the same wavelength! His article, 7 Stupid Distractions Every Leader Should Eliminate, suggests that leaders should not have push notifications on their smartphone or tablet apps. You […]

  2. Week 26 Inspiration 2018 - Bogdan D on June 27, 2018 at 10:14 pm

    […] Conversations can waste tons of time. And they happen all the time to leaders […]

  3. […] He also trained as a lawyer, so I sense we’re on the same wavelength! His article, 7 Stupid Distractions Every Leader Should Eliminate, suggests that leaders should not have push notifications on their smartphone or tablet apps. You […]

  4. John Lambert on March 9, 2018 at 10:18 am

    I came here via idle curiosity. 😉

  5. Joseph O. Oyaka on March 7, 2018 at 2:42 pm

    Thank you so much for this helpful post. Of recent I have been so busy in the office that it is becoming so hard for me to focus. But with ypur write up here I will to prioritize what I have to do.

  6. Richard Leavitt on March 7, 2018 at 10:54 am

    Carey, I read your various posts and articles about time management and effective leadership. You’re prolific! And often have some great things to share. You also confess your own tendency to workaholism. I sometimes wonder if you’re really as adept at ministry effectiveness as you would like us to be. Does workaholism still challenge your ability to set good boundaries? How would your family answer that? I will still read your posts and emails if you send fewer of them! 😉

  7. Carl Pulliam on March 7, 2018 at 10:32 am

    Carey. You have helped me tremendously with time management ideas. I once thought the topic to be blown out of preportion until I allowed poor time management and streets to burn me out. Your encouragements have assisted me gravely in rebuilding my life and ministry structure.

  8. Miles Fischer on March 7, 2018 at 10:23 am

    Great Post!!!
    Thanks for Sharing!

  9. John Gibson on March 7, 2018 at 9:52 am

    Hey Carey! I love the idle curiosity bit about not chasing the rabbit down the hole on the internet…but have you ever visited or subscribed to the website…it is an amazing source of fascinating and mind-bending historic occurrences and places! Check it out and happy chasing! Great post! Thanks for leading the way!

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