How To Avoid Distractions From Killing Your Employees' Productivity

Losing focus throughout your day can be deadly for your workplace productivity, and it destroys the workplace experience. Often, at AskCody, we talk about the "meeting room booking nightmare." Today, we'll be talking about another nightmare that happens at every single workplace over and over again. The famous "Tap on the shoulder" nightmare. In this post, we discuss the cost of that. Every day in the workplace, knowledge workers diverts their attention to interruptions and other distractions, thereby diminishing efficiency and productivity. At the same time, too many employees complain about the work environment due to that two out of three employees feel that their colleagues disturb too much. 

“Hey, do you have a second?”

Six words that can destroy productivity for even the best of us. When repeated over and over and over again over days and weeks and months, “having a sec” can rob an otherwise productive and effective person of hundreds of hours of good work. Some of us might believe that the open office arrangement where everybody can "collaborate" and "interact" with one another is the one to blame here, and moving from this to cubicles or smaller offices could be leaving those taps on the shoulder behind. But put behind bars in smaller offices and empowered with great productivity tools like Slack, HipChat, Yammer, Facebook for Business and others don't just evolve to empower our best behaviors; we also have a sneaky way of using them to fall back into bad habits, too. When you're focused, in a good flow and rhythm, productive and getting the job done, the worst thing is to be distracted with something that's not urgent. Perhaps your good colleague John didn't mean for it to be a “tap on the shoulder.” He might have said, “whenever you come up for air and take a break, let me know.” But it doesn’t matter what he meant. You were distracted! A lot of us have internalized notifications and popups to equal taps on the shoulder, and if we see one, we immediately get pulled out of whatever we’re doing and feel compelled to check. And just like that, your focus is lost. 

Here's the cost of distractions

A 5-minute distraction is not a 5-minute distraction! It's as simple as that. Every time someone asks if “you have a second,” here’s what happens. “A second” probably means that a 3-5 minute conversation is about to take place. But the cost of that conversation isn’t just those 3-5 minutes. Most of us do our best work when we’re focused. And research suggests that the time-cost of a single distraction—that is, the time it takes us to get back into deep focus after being pulled out—is 23 minutes. Let’s say that you get tapped on the shoulder—either online or in person—three times a day… a conservative estimate, I would guess. That means that you’re spending at least an hour of each day not fully focused on your work, thanks to mental distractions. 

It Gets Worse

Of course, a meeting can’t happen with one person. It takes at least two, and often more. Multiply that one daily sub-optimal hour across a team of five people, and you’re looking at 1,300 hours of compromised focus per year; more than 162 workdays! Try to imagine what happens when people get distracted in meetings. That is insane! But sadly, it’s something that many businesses accept as a fact of life. Some business owners or leaders say: “It is what it is. People need to distract each other to get their tasks done…” Well, they shouldn’t accept it… It's costly to their business, and it stresses the organization, too. 

How to end the "tap on the shoulder" nightmare and win your time and productivity back!

Yes, there will be times where you need to distract someone. When there’s a fire to be put out, and they’re the ones that need to do it. But that—“tapping” them and pulling them out of whatever they’re working on—should be the extreme exception, and not the norm that it seems to have become in way too many workplaces. But what can you do prevent tap on the "Tap on the shoulder" interruptions?

1: Make it easy to see if you a free or busy

What if, instead of compromising five hours per week on unscheduled distractions, we could cut it to a lot less?

A low hanging fruit is to make it easy for your team members or colleagues actually to see if you are free or busy. A visible "status" eliminate the need for many of the taps on the shoulder “to check in” that might otherwise happen - Of course only if people respect your "busy status." A cool tool for that is the different Busylight solutions with a green or red light that connect with you Outlook, Skype for Business or other Chat status. That way people easily know if you are free for a chat or if you're wired in and need to focus on your task.

2: Turning Off Notifications

HipChat, Slack, Skype for Business and other instant messaging solutions. It’s the absolute favorite tool for staying in touch, but it’s not immune to one of the most dangerous pitfalls of email: the perception problem.

Let’s say you send a message to a teammate to ask a question: "John, regarding the images for the web pages - Could we discuss the angles and light for the launch next week?".

It’s not urgent, and you might not mean for it to be a “tap on the shoulder.” You might mean it to say “whenever you come up for air and take a break, let me know. There’s something I want to show you.

But it doesn’t matter what you mean.

A lot of us have internalized notifications and popups to equal taps on the shoulder, and if we see one, we immediately get pulled out of whatever we’re doing and feel compelled to check.

And just like that, your focus is lost.

That’s why you should keep your notifications turned off and just check-in on a regular basis.

That way, nobody is expected to respond right away, and nobody even gets tempted to respond by distracting popups.

3: Use Asynchronous Communication tools for communication that don't have to be in real time

Another easy win is to use asynchronous communication tools. Tools that let you have conversations where all participants don’t have to go back and forth in real time.

Our primary hubs and solutions for this are Microsoft Groups, Planner, and OneNote for discussing internal projects, ideas, roadmaps, and timelines. It's great for centralizing collaborative lists, plans, and ideas and doesn’t disturb you colleagues when you add a new subject or update something. People can check in when they feel for it, or simply just subscribe to a daily or weekly digest-mail of all the updates.

4: Get an AskCody Meeting Dashboard for People

With Meeting Dashboards for people (We call it BusyView), like with the different Busy Light solutions, you can take control of your time and easily let co-workers know if you’re free or busy. But now, not just for one employee, but for your entire department or office on one single screen.

BusyView will let your colleagues know when you're in a meeting, busy with a deadline, out of office or free to chat – All integrated with you Outlook Calendar events and status. Using AskCody, you can let your co-workers know what you’re working on right now, so that they can easily see if/when you are available.

Put up in the right location in the company in reduces cost, unwanted interruptions by co-workers, and saves walking to busy colleagues in the office. BusyView instantly transforms irrelevant interruptions and wasted time into value-adding work time.

BusyView let you reach new heights in productivity and collaboration and helps you cope with the open office environment challenges. You can simply eliminate useless walks in the office and avoid being interrupted in the middle of a complex task.

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