Minimizing Workplace Distraction and Improving Productivity

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“So, how was your weekend?” begins the early morning welcome conversation. It might feel like a good start for the day but time flies and, 10 minutes later, you realize you have to submit an important project today. You turn on your computer with a fresh cup of coffee in hand and begin scrolling through emails, while simultaneously running through a mental checklist of things to get done for the day. You then go through the mails and check out a few notifications and when you glance at the clock, almost an hour has gone by and you haven’t even started yet. Does this sound familiar?

The truth is we all face distractions at work every single day, and typically every single hour. Even when we’re ‘snowed under’ with work, we still check our emails, scroll through Insta stories, or surf the internet for cheap vacation flights. But have you ever wondered exactly how much these distractions cost your company’s bottom line? Billions of dollars, yes, you heard it right. Distraction in the workplace is costing companies billions of dollars in lost opportunity and productivity. So, how to keep the distraction at bay and get a grip on productivity? To answer that, we’ve come up with some simple yet effective ways to curtail distractions.

The truth is we all face distractions at work every single day, and typically every single hour. Even when we’re ‘snowed under’ with work, we still check our emails, scroll through Insta stories, or surf the internet for cheap vacation flights. But have you ever wondered exactly how much these distractions cost your company’s bottom line? Billions of dollars, yes, you heard it right. Distraction in the workplace is costing companies billions of dollars in lost opportunity and productivity. So, how to keep the distraction at bay and get a grip on productivity? To answer that, we’ve come up with some simple yet effective ways to curtail distractions.

Limit the Digital Distraction

We are living in an age of distractions where apps, gadgets, and social media are constantly vying for our attention. According to McKinsey, employees fritter 28% of their working hours in checking and replying to their mail.  Meanwhile research by The Economist reveals that using social media at workplace costs the US economy 650 billion dollars—$4500 per worker each year.  It’s mind-boggling, isn’t it? These figures are hard to sink in. But the truth is digital distraction siphon off a lot more time and money than we think.

So what’s the fix? Instead of reacting to something the moment it comes up, finish the task at hand first.  Whether it’s your buzzing phone, email notification on your screen, or a question from a colleague if it’s going to take more than 2 minutes, add it to your to-do list and do it later. To avoid the urge to check your phone each time, try turning off notifications.

Cut Out the Unproductive Meetings

Sitting with a group of people in the conference room with no clue what’s going on in the meeting while making holiday plans or grocery list for the month in mind—most of us can relate to this. Nearly everyone who works in an office has experienced the pain of attending a meeting that has nothing to do with them at all.  This is because some companies feel that having every member in the meeting is ‘inclusive’.

But the reality is that meetings can be the biggest time sucker or productivity killer if employees won’t learn anything valuable out of it or won’t contribute in a meaningful way. An average worker attends around 62 meetings a month, but 91 percent of them feel guilty of daydreaming, while 39 percent admit that they fall asleep. So, instead of investing time in such unproductive meetings, employers should focus more on involving employees in some productive work.  

Sidestep Chatty Co-workers

“Got a minute?” is the most common question we heard from our co-worker while working on a task. But it’s never just a minute, is it? Even if the interruption is short the impact is not.  Indeed, research shows that it takes an average of almost 25 minutes to resume the task at hand after an interruption. So while it might take just a second to snap out of it, getting back to what you were doing is not that simple. Many employees admit they lose up to 5hours a day due to distraction. And it’s not just time they’re giving up but also focus and concentration along with their productivity and performance.

A new poll by Udemy and Toluna revealed that 80 percent of people report being distracted by chatty coworkers, the leading culprits for lack of workplace productivity. We all have to deal with that one co-worker who is loud, noisy and constantly distracting. Conversation is crucial for building a friendly, collaborative culture within the office, but spending too much time in conversation can hamper your productivity. To avoid such distraction you could politely explain that you’re running against a deadline and you’ll catch up with them later. Failing that, you can switch off the distraction by plugging in noise-canceling headphones.

Don’t Fall Into Multitasking Trap

You take calls while working on spreadsheets. You surreptitiously order lunch while attending an important staff meeting. Switching from task to task, you think you are being more productive. But you’re actually not. You are not putting forth your best effort when your attention is divided. In fact, when you multitask you are prone to making more mistakes and potentially damaging your brain. So, it’s better to focus on one task at a time instead of juggling with multiple tasks.

Escape Internal Distractions

While it might be a bit easier to tackle all the external workplace interruptions but one source of distraction that is pretty tough for even the most focused worker to ignore is the ‘noise’ inside their heads. You working on a report and you heard or see the word ‘key’ and it reminds you that you need to take your car key and repair your car and get gas on your way home. Then, you start to think about what else you need to do and before you know it you completely forget what you were focusing on just a few minutes ago. Whether it’s the list of errands you need to do or the feeling of guilt about something you said earlier in the day, it keeps revolving in our mind and hinder our productivity. The best way to eliminate such distraction is to take breaks in between and allocating some time for such distraction so that such thoughts won’t cross your mind during working hour.   

Take Short Breaks

Do you feel proud that lunch break is the only break you take in a whole day? Do you think that you are achieving optimal productivity by allocating the rest of your attention on work? Well, sorry to disappoint you but according to researchers at the University of Illinois, it can actually hamper concentration over time. Remember, staying back late at work and working continuously doesn’t exactly reflect more productivity. In fact it points out your poor time management skills.

Believe it or not, taking small breaks throughout the day is what sustains your focus. When you feel overwhelmed or stuck with an issue, go for a walk to breathe in the fresh air and clear your head and when you will come back, you will see the current task with a fresh lens. You can even follow several productivity techniques such as the Pomodoro technique, where you work for 25 minutes and then rest for 5 minutes to boost your focus and productivity the most.

Stick to strict deadlines

When you have a sword of deadline hanging over you, even the loudest noise will turn into the faintest whisper. The urgency of the moment will make you too focused that you will hardly notice the distractions around you. You have to bein the moment with no time to fritter away and no reason to drag your feet. So, setting a self-imposed deadline and strictly following it can go a long way to minimize the distraction and improving productivity. 

The Bottom Line

In a world driven by distraction, staying productive in the workplace is not easy. But you’ve got two choices — either take control of these distractions or let them control you. If you fail to control the interruptions, it will undermine your performance, increase your stress, and weaken your productivity. However, this doesn’t mean you have to work restlessly every now and then to stay productive. Of course, you can have a slack-off day sometimes. But if your unproductive moments occur more and more often, it’s time to do a little soul-searching and planning to make distractions go away.