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For all the time we spend promoting productivity-enhancing technologies, we’d be remiss if we didn’t address the source of quite a bit of inefficiency: the user. People get distracted from their tasks all the time and the bounceback rates from these distractions aren’t great. Let’s go over a few tips that you and your team can use to help identify and avoid distractions throughout the workday.
On average, a worker in the United States is distracted about every 11 minutes or so. As if this wasn’t bad enough, it then takes this worker about 25 minutes to return to the task at hand. Of course, more complicated tasks take even longer to refocus on—simply because of the greater mental effort needed to pivot from one challenging task to another.
Naturally, this isn’t a great turnaround rate… particularly when today’s workplaces are so committed to making the most of their available time. Minimizing these distractions is therefore a crucial goal that businesses should emphasize. In order to do so, it is important that we acknowledge that all distractions can be split into one of two categories: external distractions, and internal distractions.
While there is a case to be made that a distraction is a distraction, comparing the differences between those that come from internal sources and those that are introduced by external factors can help us understand what is causing the worst productivity deficits.
We’re all familiar with external distractions, the kind that come in and pull our attention away from the task at hand. Emails, phone calls, instant messages, and impromptu meetings all fall into this category, and each contribute to the problem by some measure.
Adding to these distractions are those that reside internally. These internal distractions are those that are caused by the various mental blocks a person can experience. Oftentimes, these blocks come from an inability to weigh out our choices and prioritize them effectively… particularly when there are a lot of options to choose from. Think about the last time you looked at a restaurant’s menu, for instance. The more items they offer, the harder your choice potentially becomes to make. Smaller menus, on the other hand, give you fewer options to balance and therefore an easier choice to make.
Of course, with so many workplaces setting the schedule for their team members, this isn’t a perfect comparison. It is probably more fair to say that a lot of internal distractions in the professional environment are generated by a lack of prioritization in the tasks that are assigned to team members.
Think of it this way: if everything is marked as the highest priority, who’s to say which task has the highest highest priority?
So, not only are your team members liable to become distracted by the need to identify the most important task to attend to, they also can have a challenge in appropriately arranging these tasks so that they are finished most efficiently.
Other common internal distractions are likely to be familiar to most people: wandering thoughts, and all those moments spent thinking about the other tasks that are coming after the present one is finished. Combined, internal and external distractions can make real productivity difficult for even the most dedicated employee.
Fortunately, sharing a few strategies with your team can help give them the power to overcome these kinds of distractions and reclaim the productivity that may have otherwise been sacrificed.
Let’s touch back on the menu example we discussed earlier. If too many options ultimately leads to more distractions, encouraging your team members to start eliminating options should help to make them more productive. Whether this means they spent a few minutes clearing their workspace of anything that may draw their attention away from their tasks, or figuring out the most impactful responsibilities they currently have assigned to them and starting with those, investing a little bit of time initially will help to prevent a lot more time being lost later.
Remember how we mentioned that a big source of distraction can come from your upcoming tasks and lingering thoughts about them? One effective way to keep yourself focused on the task at hand is to give yourself a concrete stopping point. Perhaps you’ll give yourself an hour and a half of committed time to one project, after which you transition to the next, with a budgeted half an hour. Alternatively, you could set a progress limit—maybe you move to your next task after you’ve completed so many of something, or completed some percentage of your total goal. Establishing these boundaries—and sticking to them, of course—can be a very effective way to help minimize your distractions.
Where you work plays a considerable role in how you work, with our five senses unfortunately much harder to focus than our thoughts can be. Sounds like background chatter can be intrusive and interruptive, while our sense of touch will exacerbate any discomfort we feel. Many of us rely on sight to see what we are doing, but that also opens us up to visual distractions. Smells (both pleasant and decidedly not so) can very quickly occupy our attention, and everyone has had to try and deal with the distraction of an inexplicable funny taste.
Identifying these kinds of distractions and being prepared to address them when they do appear will help to take away a few sources of distraction, potentially preserving productivity.
What have you found distracts you the most, and what have you done about it? If it isn’t enough, know that Dresner Group is here to help. There are a few things that we can do to help keep your team members on track, and we can make sure your company is equipped to make the absolute most of any time spent by implementing productive and efficient IT solutions. Learn more by giving us a call at (410) 531-6727.
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