Maximize Productivity by Minimizing Workplace Distractions

Maximize Productivity by Minimizing Workplace Distractions

Most distraction-busters require action by employees themselves. But consider this: Are you or the supervisors on your staff part of the problem? Employees typically will drop what they’re doing if they hear from the boss, whether it’s in the form of an email, phone call, or personal visit. Before reaching out to a worker, assess the urgency of the issue at hand. If possible, wait to touch base with employees until you can accumulate multiple messages or questions.

Customized Cubes

Other steps you can take to help employees stay on task center around their working environment. Assuming they don’t have private offices, determine whether employees’ workspaces provide a reasonable opportunity for seclusion.

Even cubicles in an “open office” setting can be customized somewhat to minimize their inhabitants’ undesired interactions with their coworkers. Employees themselves can create small barriers (analogous to blinders on a horse) that can keep passing coworkers out of their peripheral field of vision.

Also, private spaces like unused meeting rooms can provide a refuge for cubicle-bound workers when they need to minimize distractions. Employees who can take advantage of those opportunities should be encouraged to do so.

Planned Interruptions

Another approach to keep employees on task is to schedule daily “no-interruption” periods. These are times during which intra-office emails, phone calls and meetings are strictly prohibited for employees who require periods of full concentration and whose job duties allow them to isolate temporarily.

A related tactic is to modify your internal email system so that it will only distribute messages in batches after intervals of “email silence.” However, it’s preferable for employees to take responsibility for not looking at their computers every time a new email hits the inbox, to avoid impeding the pace of urgent email dialogs.

Keep in mind, activity that might be distracting for one person could have the opposite effect on another. For example, some people can focus better when they have music filling their ears. While such employees’ appetite for tunes shouldn’t be imposed on their coworkers, a good pair of ear buds can address that concern.

Finally, distractibility can be influenced by stress. Some jobs and work environments are inherently stressful. Nevertheless, monitoring employee stress is essential not only to manage distractibility, but to safeguard employee health. If you have only a few stressed-out employees, that could reflect circumstances unique to those individuals. If everyone is stressed out, identify the systemic causes and address them.

Tips for Employees

What about tips for employees to use themselves? Getting their own stress under control is crucial; tranquility cannot be imposed on them. Stress-reduction techniques are legion and well-documented. Achieving “mindfulness” is one such technique many employers are trying to facilitate for their employees by providing resources to guide them in that direction.

Here are some more distraction-busters:

    • Spend time at work before or after most other employees are present with a flextime schedule,
    • Use “do-not-disturb” signs or the equivalent to fend off coworkers at regular intervals,
    • Mute and put your personal phone out of sight, and check it only at fixed intervals of two hours or more,
    • Create a realistic “time budget” for various tasks to, at a minimum, monitor your progress toward achieving it,
    • Take brief but regular breaks,
    • Think of concentration as a skill that can be improved, with practice, over time, and
    • When faced with numerous small tasks and one or two big ones, rapidly clear the decks of the small tasks first — it’s better to eliminate the minor distractions hanging over your head so you can maximize your concentration on the tougher jobs.

A final technique, recommended by business performance social scientist Joseph Grenny, requires a little introspection. “The next 10 times you allow yourself to be interrupted, stop and ask, ‘What was I feeling immediately before I switched tasks,'” he wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

In his research, Grenny has found that “most of our interruptions are addictive responses, learned tactics to avoid uncomfortable emotions” such as anxiety, boredom and loneliness. Becoming aware of why you succumb to distractions is the first step in the process of overcoming those temptations.

If there were a quick fix for distractibility, it probably would’ve been discovered centuries ago. Until one is found, taking the productivity-sapping problem of employee distraction seriously by applying a multi-pronged assault. Using the tactics described above, you may be able to move the needle in the right direction.

Payroll Partners is committed to helping clients stay informed about payroll and human resource news. This article is intended to provide readers with general information on human resources matters. The article does not constitute, and should not be treated as professional advice regarding the use of any particular practice. All efforts have been made to assure the accuracy of the information. Payroll Partners does not assume responsibility for any individual’s reliance upon the information provided in the article. Readers should independently verify all information before applying it to a particular fact situation, and should independently determine the impact of any particular practice. If you are seeking human resources advice, you are encouraged to consult a human resources professional.