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Distractions in the Workplace

How efficient are you? The chances are that you reckon you’re doing OK in that department. But do you? a) list the five or six really important tasks that must be done before you go home today (this should be done the night before incidentally so you can hit the deck running next morning) and b) do you have processes in place to cut out or minimise distractions?

I have a reputation for efficiency, but I know that I could actually work much smarter by managing the various things that I am currently allowing to distract me. I’m including quite a range of activities in this, not just email, web browsing, admin jobs and unnecessary phone calls. The truth is I am a procrastinator when it comes to certain things and it’s just so hard to get started. I will do it eventually but the mental effort that takes place before I grit my teeth and get on with it is surprisingly great. So by default I allow those cute little distractions to give me the sense that I am doing something useful and knocking something off my lengthy “to do” list. I know I am fooling myself and I have decided that Things Must Change!

How often do you allow yourself to be distracted when you’re trying to work on something important?

A distracted employee is not a productive one. Employees who are focused and truly productive get the job done in a timely manner and do it well. On the flip side distracted employees can cause huge problems.

In a recent survey conducted by Interact. It found that the top five workplace distractions were email (35.3%),meetings and Facebook (19.6%),personal phones (15.7%) and internet (9.8%). Those who took part in the survey were executives, HR professionals and other office workers.

Employees who are readily distracted may say that they are overworked. It is common for unproductive employees to start a piece of work (often something they want to do rather than what is really needed),work on it for an hour, not finish it because they haven’t set a goal for the work period and then start something else. Their inability to set and focus on the goals for that piece of work makes them waste their energy and motivation. Add ten more pieces of unfinished work, deadlines and an angry customer to the mix you can understand how they might feel overwhelmed and their failure to manage distractions can really impact on your business. Then they go sick with stress and everyone else has to deal with their work. Just because they think they’re over-worked doesn’t mean that is the case. They may be or they may be working inefficiently. Investigate to ascertain the facts.

Emails can take up a good deal of your day and you have to stay on top of them. Rather than checking and dealing with them when they come in, allocate blocks of time several times a day. For example, Tim Ferriss in The Four Hour Work Week checked emails twice a day initially. He drafted the following email reply: "Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail twice daily at 12:00pm and 4:00pm. If you require urgent assistance that cannot wait until either 12:00pm or 4:00pm, please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555."

Make sure you unsubscribe from unwanted emails, not just delete them.

When you are not using email, turn it off.

Distractions in the office will sometimes be unavoidable but if you can remove or reduce the routine distractions you will be less distracted, more productive and feel less overwhelmed.

Here are some ways that you can stop the top five workplace distractions.

  • Train yourself to work on a specified piece of work in short blocks of time (45 minutes is the optimum period for intense concentration). Before you start be clear what you will have achieved in that time. If you set yourself specified, measureable challenging goals you are far more likely to achieve them than if you simply work on the project for 45 minutes without an end goal. During that time turn off or re-direct your email and phone and unless the building is on fire or about to be flooded don’t talk to anyone else.
  • Have standing meetings. I’m serious. Remove the chairs. Offer water, no tea or coffee and no biscuits. Have an agenda, have a start and finish time. Stick to the agenda and sum up five minutes before the end.
  • Limit personal use of social media and web related activities during working hours. Make it clear to employees that they cannot access social media on their computers/laptops during working hours. If employees do not comply with these rules make it known that discipline action will be taken.
  • Ask your IT Company to block all social media sites on employee logins. If employees do need to have access to social media sites for business use i.e. marketing activities make sure you have the ability to see how long employees are spending on it and that they are not abusing the right by logging into their own profiles as well as the company’s.
  • Make it a rule that personal mobile phones are put away in locker, bag or desk drawer during working hours. Nobody ever died because they couldn’t text their mate.

If you need help getting HR problems resolved in your business in a practical way, get in touch.

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