he biggest challenge when you’re at work and trying to get stuff done are the interruptions. They’re unrelenting, one after another, rendering your work time more or less useless.
You know the interruptions I’m talking about. When people drop by your desk for no reason other than to shoot the shit or worse, micromanage. When you’re called into meetings that are completely irrelevant to what you do. When your computer won’t stop beeping with notifications as a constant stream of emails and instant messages pop up every minute. When your phone is ringing off the hook for no good reason.
Unfortunately, these distractions are built into every workplace and become increasingly frustrating when all you really want to do is get some actual work done.
The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work.W. Edwards Deming
In this sense, technology has only made things worse because location and access are no longer a barrier. Not at the office? It’s ok, you can dial into this conference call. Working from home? No problem, just WebEx into this meeting. The office follows us around in that little device in your pocket. There’s no escape.
And that’s just the external interruptions. Technology also challenges our personal self-control and discipline to focus on a task at hand. That means no checking Facebook, no setting Fantasy Football lineups, no reading articles on BuzzFeed, and certainly no surfing Imgur. We all have shot our productivity in foot on many occasion once we start browsing the internet. The internal struggles are very real.
It’s a wonder we get any work done at all.
So how much do these interruptions cost you? Maybe not too much if you’ve not really engaged in a task yet or are just settling in. But what about when you’re in the zone or a state of flow? Then it can be far more detrimental.
A recent study conducted at the University of California, Irvine looked at what a distraction could actually cost you. Here’s what Gloria Mark, the study lead, had to say, “We found about 82 per cent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”
Another study says that in a day, interruptions can cost you up to 6 hours! All we really want is for everyone to respect our time, especially when we’re working.Unfortunately such behavior has become status quo and seem to be a part of work culture at most organizations. This is not only bad for the employee (work longer hours than needed), but even worse for the business (lose money).
So the question is, how can we begin to eliminate distractions at the work place?
The best way to avoid interruptions is to turn them off.Peter Bregman
Bregman has the right idea, although it’s certainly harder than it sounds. Here are a few things you can try.
1. Do Not Disturb
Make it clear when you don’t want to be disturbed. Create your own personal office hours where you want to interact with others and any other time is off limits. Another approach is to wear headphones when you don’t wish to be disturbed, which is pretty common in more open office plans.
2. Work Off Hours
Working off hours can be a great way to have some alone time and really be productive. The typical 9-5 work day is full of distractions, but coming in two hours earlier (7-3) or staying two hours later (10-7) can give you a window of time to focus on things that need to get done. If it’s possible at your workplace, take advantage of it. Of course, to truly be alone, try working anytime between 11 PM and 5 AM.
3. Be Mindful of Others Time
This is a two way deal, just as you get frustrated by interruptions in your work day, so do others. We all have to be mindful of when we’re about to do to others, what we hate others doing to us. So next time you’re about to go over to your co-workers desk and talk about the game last night, think again. Try and wait till you see them in the break room or at lunch instead.
4. Turn Off Technology (When You Can)
Turn off the technology when you can. If you don’t need your laptop put it away. If you do, turn off the internet and put your phone on silent. If internet is essential, use tools that block your favorite time wasting sites (some good extensions for this are Stay Focused for Chrome and Leech Block for Firefox). There are ways to limit the distractions if you really want to.
5. Start a Conversation
Have a frank discussion with your co-workers and manager when it comes to meetings, both in terms of need and format. Paul Graham wrote a great essay about the challenge between the maker and manager schedule. In it, Graham makes it all the more clear that better communication could go a long way in alleviating some of the unnecessary pain that comes from meetings in particular.
Distractions are no easy thing to overcome, but hopefully with these methods and a little luck, you can start being more productive at the office.