How many times have you been at work, and the phone rings, or someone walks in your office, or the e-mail "blings" and you decide to take a peek, and when you come back to what you were doing, you completely forgot where you left off? And then, it takes you 5-10-15 minutes to figure out where you were, so you can get back to being productive again? Does this happen frequently to you? All the time? This is your "train of thought" getting knocked off its track, and for many of us, it happens too often and really hurts our short term and long-term productivity. But there is a simple solution to help you get better at keeping your attention train on its track. It is a habit that I've used for years now, after hearing about it originally from time management guru David Allen (author of "Getting Things Done"), and it is REALLY simple:

Here's what you will need:
- A pen or pencil
- A sticky note and/or pad of scratch paper

Before you allow your attention to get diverted by an unexpected call or visitor, write a really quick note to remind yourself exactly where you are on whatever it is you are working on, and what the very next step will be to keep that project moving forward.

Here's how it works:
• The phone rings: pick up the phone, politely greet the caller, ask them to hold on a quick second, and write your reminder/next step note. Then, take the call.
• Someone walks in: greet them nicely, but ask them for “just one second” before they let you know why they stopped by. Write your reminder note. Then, talk to the visitor.
• The e-mail “blings”: now of course, you shouldn't be jumping over to check your e-mail every time it blings (I can't imagine anyone that has ever attended any of my courses is still doing that!), but if you are expecting an important e-mail, before you look at it, stop and write your reminder note! Then, read your e-mail.

When you write your reminder note, either put it on top of your "priority" pile (your pile of organized information inputs stacked in priority order – most important and/or urgent on top down to least important/urgen on the bottom), or write your note on a sticky note and attach it to the top of the project folder you are working on. (Or, if you are a techie, you can always key your new reminder/next step right into your computer or PDA.)

Nearly everyone will give you a couple seconds to gather your train of thought if they are interrupting you unexpectedly. It is a common courtesy they should be willing to give you (they are interrupting you!), so take advantage of it. When you come back to your project, task, or activity, your reminder note will help you get back to being productive in a matter of seconds – not minutes.

This is one of those "simple stupid" tips that will literally save you hundreds if not thousands of hours over your career. And a nice side benefit – by writing down where you are at on your project before taking the call or visitor, you can then give your caller or visitor your undivided attention, rather than spending the entire conversation trying to remember where you are on your project (and thus not listening!). So, you’ll be more efficient at getting back to your work after handling an interruption, and more attentive when dealing with the interruption – sounds like a smart professional productivity strategy to me!

Author's Bio: 

Randy Dean (www.randalldean.com) is the "Totally Obsessed" Time Management/PDA Guy and E-mail Sanity Expert. A very popular speaker and trainer, Randy has led programs all around the United States on better time management and e-mail sanity. The author of the book, Major Satisfactors = Major Success, and developer of the popular speaking/training program, "Taming the E-mail Beast: Managing the Mess of E-mail and Information Overload", Randy is working on a new book and related DVD program on how to better manage your productivity and sanity related to e-mail and info overload. Randy also has popular speaking programs for conferences and association meetings, including his "Finding an Extra Hour Every Day" program, "The PDA Power Program", and "(RE)Awakening the Passion and Energy in Your Work and Life", as well as highly rated training programs, including his highlight full-day "Time Management for Busy Managers, Leaders, and Professionals" course. You can learn much more about Randy and his upcoming courses and programs at www.randalldean.com