Controlling Distractions Can Improve Productivity

How Distractions Impede Productivity

Did you know that the average worker in the United States gets distracted from their work every 11 minutes? When this happens, it also takes them 25 minutes to refocus on their tasks. This all adds up in the long term, and it can even bleed into the quality of work that does get done. More complicated tasks naturally take even more time to refocus.

Workplaces naturally want to get as much productivity out of their employees as they can reasonably expect, so this turnaround is not particularly great. Therefore, it is in the employer?s best interests to minimize distractions in the workplace. The first step is admitting that distractions are a problem; only after this has happened can you begin to take the next steps toward resolving the problem. There are two different types of distractions: external and internal.

Identifying Internal and External Distractions

Most distractions are bad and counterproductive, but it?s worth understanding the difference between external and internal distractions, as well as how they can influence productivity.

First, let?s define external distractions. These are all over the place in the business environment in the form of emails, phone calls, instant messages, pop-up meetings, etc. These external distractions can all happen when we least expect them, forcing the user to shift focus and away from the task at hand. While external distractions come from external issues, internal distractions are those that the user creates from within themselves, such as mental blocks, an inability to prioritize tasks or weigh options appropriately. It?s like looking at a restaurant menu; too many choices makes the decision difficult, whereas fewer choices expedites the decision-making process.

Some workplaces build-out schedules for employees, so this is not necessarily a perfect comparison, but it is a fair concern to have. In this case, the internal distractions that come from an inability to prioritize tasks are not their fault. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. Employees will be forced to make their own tough calls in these situations, and their thought processes regarding these tough calls might lead to doing tasks out of order or in an inefficient way.

Internal distractions can also manifest themselves in the form of wandering thoughts or planning for future tasks rather than focusing on the current one. When internal and external distractions are combined, even the most dedicated employee might have trouble focusing on their work. It is possible to overcome these distractions, though; it just takes some hard work and best practices.

How to Minimize Distractions

Eliminate Options

If we look at the above scenario with the menu, the problem of having too many options can be mitigated by removing some of them. Eliminating options means that less time is spent on decisions and, therefore, fewer distractions get in the way of making up your mind. One way you can eliminate options is by simply cleaning up your area and eliminating distractions. If you spend a little time doing this, you might be surprised by how much time it actually saves.

Set Limits

A clear goal in mind can help you stay focused on it, but identifying the specific endpoint can have the same effect. Give yourself a set amount of time to work on a task, then transition to the next one. This does a couple of things for productivity. On one hand, it keeps the mind fresh and keeps tasks from growing stale. On the other, if you give yourself a set amount of time to work on a task, chances are that you will spend that amount of time on it. A common saying is that work expands to fit the time scheduled for it, so you might even find yourself ahead of schedule for a change.

Control your Environment

If you can control your environment, you can control your focus. If you struggle with a noisy atmosphere, then you can put some headphones on to keep noise to a minimum. If there is something distracting going on in the office, you can instead take a laptop and work elsewhere in the office. Changing your environment can be empowering and allow you to remove yourself from distracting situations.

If you find yourself struggling with distractions, try using some of these strategies to make the workplace more conducive to productivity. What are some strategies that you might recommend to your peers and colleagues? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to our blog.

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