This is the third in a series of posts about **the lessons I wish I’d learned earlier in life.

How many times have you been working on something only to be interrupted by a beep from your cell phone or a bouncing icon on your desktop?

Here’s how I got my productivity back and you will too:

  1. Turn off all email alert sounds on your email client, instant messenger and cell phone. Don’t skip this step, it’s easily the most important thing you can do to take back control of your time.
  2. Schedule no more than three times per day to check (and reply to) email. What’s the worst that could happen if you don’t reply to email instantly? Besides, if they really need something, they’ll call or IM you anyways.
  3. When replying to emails, go offline. Respond to all email from a local program such as Outlook or Mail to avoid having the outgoing flow interrupted by immediate responses. Ever notice how effective it is to respond to your email while on an airplane?

Please, spare me the “but Paul, my boss will kill me if I check email twice a day!” comments. If you do have to check email every hour then just do it, the point is that you have to take control of your distractions, otherwise they’ll take control of you.

If you don’t, there is an inevitable task-switching cost – U.S. office workers spend 28% of their time switching between tasks due to interruption, and 40% of the time, an interrupted task is not resumed within 24 hours.

Start today: Use Rescue Time and start measuring what you really spend your time on – you’ll be amazed.

Image Credit: zachklein