How to reduce distractions at work

From individuals to the overall office ecosystem, several factors can kill productivity

Sapience Analytics
Updated: Jul 30, 2015 11:55:16 AM UTC
Too much of process orientation can kill creativity, frustrate employees and make them less interested in work

Image: Shutterstock

First, the facts. An average office employee works for only 15 minutes before becoming distracted. More than 53 percent people waste about an hour or more a day because of disruptions.

I am sure none of these come as a surprise to you. We all experience it. We may not be able to time the “waste hours” every day, but know intuitively that distractions are increasing our stress levels and making us less productive.

At an individual level, there are a few things which cause distractions:

  • Multitasking— We all feel and probably believe that multi-tasking is making us more productive. However, research shows that multi-tasking is counter-productive and slows you down.
  • Employee Disengagement— Disengaged employees contribute to distractions (to managers and other employees) and could make others less productive.
  • Process Overkill— Too much of process orientation can kill creativity, frustrate employees and make them less interested in work.

If only we could quantify and observe our work pattern, we would be able to zero in on what distracts us and bring in improvements. But it’s not always the individuals who should take the blame—many times, the overall ecosystem can be distractive too. Here are some of my observations about workplaces which can hamper individual work efficiency and productivity:

#1: Open Office Spaces: The advocates of open offices claim those promote collaboration and team work. I have a different view. The spontaneous collaboration facilitated by open offices makes individuals switch between tasks frequently. As many studies will support, it makes one less productive and takes up more energy and time to concentrate back on the task at hand. There are several studies and research that also show that people’s productivity, their relationships with co-workers and their performance have actually dropped because of open offices. Many of us are able to concentrate better when there is a feeling of privacy.

#2: Unplanned Discussions and Unpunctual Meetings
Everyone would agree here. “Let’s have a meeting to discuss this”—these are probably the words that are most dreaded by employees. Unplanned discussions lead to wastage of time. Such discussions usually don’t have fixed agendas, follow the fixed schedule and end with concrete action. The salary costs of unnecessary meetings are in billions. Meetings are undoubtedly important but those can be the biggest productivity killers if they are unnecessary, unfocussed and go on for a long time.

#3: Crowded Cafeterias
We may not realise it but cafeterias tend to get very crowded during common breaks and a lot of employees end up waiting to have tea/coffee served or even get a place to sit. The waiting time is usually spent in chatting with colleagues or browsing through social networking sites on phone. “It’s a good break”, you might hear some say. But this is actually an unnecessary break, which may not even give the feeling of relaxation.

All these are probably part of the office life and culture. Does this mean we have to live with these? Probably not. There are a few ways to handle these distractions more effectively and create a mindful enterprise.

  • Instead of a completely open office space, create small meeting rooms for quick meetings and calls. This will ensure that others are not disturbed because of meetings.
  • Conduct stand-up meetings—these tend to be short and to-the-point.
  • Start and stop meetings on time. Don’t wait for people who show up late.
  • Circulate the meeting agenda in advance. Make sure that each item on the agenda has some action corresponding to it and one person is given responsibility for each item.
  • Ban distractions like laptops and smartphones during meetings.
  • Follow ‘open hour’ and ‘silent hour’ in office. This means, no meetings, no discussions, no activity is planned during silent hours and everyone is allowed to focus on their core tasks.
  • Have a facility for tea/ coffee on each floor so that common cafeterias don’t get crowded during common breaks.
  • Give individuals an opportunity to observe their work habits and provide them with concrete data to help them analyse their work patterns.

- By Shirish Deodhar, CEO & Co-Founder, Sapience Analytics

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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