You get to work, open up your computer and more than likely start your day off facing a barrage of emails and tasks. In between trying to work, you take phone calls, deal with colleagues’ “quick questions” and probably dip in and out of social media too. Our modern workplaces make it easy to multitask, but sometimes difficult to focus. This can affect productivity.

While companies may offer initial training on a new tool’s basic functionality, they’re not considering how these emerging productivity and communication tools fit into the broader landscape of distractions and, therefore, companies fail to reap all of the productivity benefits they seek

A 2018 survey by Udemy found that “employers aren’t doing much, if anything, to instruct workers on how to manage the constant barrage of noise, interruptions, and notifications in order to maintain performance effectiveness. While companies may offer initial training on a new tool’s basic functionality, they’re not considering how these emerging productivity and communication tools fit into the broader landscape of distractions and, therefore, companies fail to reap all of the productivity benefits they seek.”

Survey respondents cited chatty co-workers (80%) and office noise (70%) as the top distractors overall, followed by changes in the workplace (61%). In younger segments, the number two distraction was the smartphone, with 69% acknowledging that checking a personal device interferes with concentration. Peak distraction sets in at midday, with 46% of participants saying that noon to 3pm is their most distracted period.

By helping employees to deal with workplace distractions, you can boost productivity and minimise frustration. Here are some strategies you might want to try:

  • Empower employees to take action:
    Give people permission to protect their productivity, whether that means wearing noise-cancelling headphones or encouraging them to step outside once or twice a day to reset their focus. Reassure people that it’s okay to protect their boundaries. For example, if a colleague wants to ask a question, they might say something like, “Sorry – I am busy with this report right now. Please can we chat at 2pm?”

  • Provide distraction-free spaces:
    Whether it’s a quiet cubicle or a meeting room that can be booked, or the option of working from home, give people spaces where they can go to escape distractions when they need to make a deadline or focus on concentration-heavy work.

  • Spend time working on email management:
    Constantly checking our inboxes and replying to mails immediately breaks our concentration and takes up precious time. Work on creating a culture where people check their mails once or twice a day and don’t send unnecessary emails (including copying everyone on a mail that only needs to be seen by one person!).

  • Hold fewer meetings:
    Consider keeping a few days a week meeting-free so everyone can concentrate on getting their core work done. Only include people who need to be in meetings in the meeting request. Don’t hold meetings for the sake of meetings – make sure there’s a clear purpose.

  • Set a good example and share what works for you:
    Mute non-essential notifications on your personal devices and share any tips you have for remaining focused with your team. This could include setting specific times in the day for checking social media apps.

  • Consider investing in time management training for your whole team.
    Not only can training teach you to cultivate healthy working habits that keep you focused, but doing the training together as a team gives you a shared base of understanding and the ability to keep one another accountable.

Obviously, you can’t avoid all distractions. As real people living in the real world, we will all be distracted from time to time. We can, however, ensure that we keep regular distractions to a minimum and that we focus on increasing our effectiveness and productivity.

 

F.R. (Rhys) Robinson, PhD is Executive Director, Infinitus Reporting Solutions (Pty) Ltd, provider of enterprise-wide consolidation, planning and reporting solutions.

 
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