Fast Company posted a piece dealing with workplace distractions today. Their sources estimate that workplace distractions, those that take us off-task, cost our economy over $10,000 per worker per year.
What's a loyal employee to do? The article includes 3 suggestions:
- Turn off alerts. Email and instant message alerts are one of the biggest causes of interruptions. One study found that 71% of people answer IM alerts within 2 seconds, and 41% of people respond to email alerts within 15 seconds. Turning these off will do wonders for productivity.
- Off-site, out of mind. If you have work that requires deep thought or creativity, like writing or coming up with new ideas, find a quiet place outside the office, like a library or study, where there are fewer distractions.
- Be "alone in the crowd." Follow Petrarch’s 650-year-old advice and find a way to shut out the world in crowded spaces. For example, work in a café with a pair of headphones. Many people find it easy to shut out distractions when they are not targeted at them.
Anyone who hasn't turned off email alerts should stop reading right now and do that on the computer and smart phone and iPad and anything else with updates. Really- what are you waiting for? My phone still alerts me to texts because these can be more urgent than email. In my world, the urgency scale goes from snail mail (most official but least urgent) to email to text to phone call.
The piece missed one of my favorite techniques, the closed door. This one won't work if you live in a cubicle farm, but closing the door sends a message that you are, ins some way, unavailable. I have signs for my door letting people know if I am out, on a conference call, or in with the door closed. The latter lets people with truly urgent stuff know that they can knock.
The article has advice for organizations as well:
- Create email policies. Limit the number of email recipients for a given message. Limit the length of an email thread, and encourage people to pick up the phone instead of sending endless emails. Discourage the use of email’s "cc" capability.
- Create meeting policies. Not all meetings need to be an hour or a half hour. Shorten meetings and make sure computers are closed (unless needed for note taking), phones are off, and insist that texting is strictly verboten.
- Reduce context switching. Workers change windows 37 times an hour, on average, according to the New York Times. We use too many applications to get work done. We spend the day cutting information from one window into another; all this toggling is sapping us of our ability to work. New collaboration tools are actually making things worse. Forrester Research found that 61% of organizations have invested in 5 or more collaboration tools, but that most of them are not being used effectively. At one of my recent seminars, one participant went as far as to say, "If I have to use one more productivity tool, I won’t get ANY work done." The key is to make what you have already work better by integrating them so typical workflows like document and knowledge sharing are contained in a work context
I can't argue with most of these suggestions, although encouraging phone use can have the opposite effect. I hate to sit through a ringing phone, and using it more could increase interruptions. The phone should be used for stuff that requires an answer soon (like many patient care questions) or those where lack of a paper trail is a good thing. If it can wait 24 hours, use email.
Any other ideas out there for staying on task?