In an increasingly connected world of emails, instant messaging, and open office plans, getting distracted at work has become the norm rather than the exception. With the average employee getting interrupted 50 to 60 times per day, getting into and staying in a “flow” state at work is getting almost impossible. What makes this whole matter worse is the fact that 80% of the interruptions facing the average employee are of “little value” or “no value”. If we were to cut out just the unimportant interruptions, the average employee would get back around 3 hours of their time. Begin scaling this across an organisation, and we can start to see the huge cost of distraction in the modern workplace.
However, constant distraction not only reduces the productivity of the average employee, it also increases stress levels. According to the American Psychological Association, a lack of control over one’s work is one of the key contributors to workplaces stress.
So, how do we avoid distractions in the office in order to take back control of our time, do our best work, and improve our emotional well-being?
1. Practice Asynchronous Communication
It’s okay to slow down. You don’t have to reply straight away, it’s okay to reply later.
By realising you don’t have to reply immediately, you gain the benefit of more uninterrupted time for deep work. An added benefit is the additional time for thought you allow yourself, by giving yourself the opportunity to reflect before responding you give yourself the ability to make better decisions.
When you are communicating synchronously, for example on a phone call, you are thinking and responding on the fly, increasing the likelihood of misspeaking or overlooking a serious consideration.
To move to more asynchronous communication, considering the “Eisenhower Principle” is extremely helpful. You need to distinguish between the important and urgent matters. Simply put, unless a matter is extremely urgent you don’t need to respond immediately. Consider this, of the emails you get every day what proportion actually require immediate attention?
To optimize an asynchronous message and to avoid a lot of follow-up emails, include the following in your initial message:
- Adequate content and detail
- Clear actionable items/requests
- A desired due date
2. Turn off or Mute Notifications
The average person in the US receives 46 push notifications per day. To make matters worse, we don’t get all these notifications at once, they are spread out throughout the day, almost as if to prevent you from focusing and doing deep work. To avoid our Pavlovian impulses to respond on cue, simply turn off or mute your push notifications.
You can also use airplane mode to limit text message and phone call interruptions during certain times of day. If you’re worried about emergencies, you can always exempt specific numbers, such as those of loved ones or valued and important business associates. You can set “Do Not Disturb” mode on an iPhone to allow your designated “favorite” contacts to get through, while silencing other calls or messages.
3. Batch Check Everything
Quickly glancing at anything, even for just a second, can build up quickly, leading to a 40% productivity loss over the course of a day.
Rather than sporadically checking things throughout the day, emails, instant messages, social media, and even text messages should be batched and checked at predetermined times.
If you struggle with self-control, tools like Gmail’s Inbox Pause plugin enable you to pause your inbox once you’ve checked it and only unpause it when you’re ready. Alternatively, moving internal communications to a platform like TribePulse that encourages batching by replacing notifications with an activity stream can help both you and your team fight the urge.
4. Avoid Calendar Tetris
Most modern tools make it easy for others to book your time, the majority of tools in the modern workplace don’t even ask for your approval before letting another individual book your time. To prevent this, consider blocking out meeting-free zones on your calendar, or using a meeting scheduling tool such as Calendly so that people book meetings with you only during scheduled times, leaving the rest of the day free for focus.
5. Close the Loop on Meetings
While the number of meetings should be minimised, when you do have meetings, ensure there is an list of actionable items at the end, with each item having a due date and someone responsible for each item. Having a record of this is highly beneficial for future reference, sharing this record publicly extends this benefit and promotes knowledge sharing with the rest of your organisation. We recommend teams on TribePulse, to post minutes or meeting notes as a Topic following each and every meeting, so that those who didn’t attend the meeting can also benefit. This minimises follow-up interruptions to discuss previous meetings.
6. Stop Using “Reply All” in your emails
On the surface, “Reply All” seems like a collaborative action, but in reality it is often used as a mechanism to share accountability. This only adds unnecessary chatter to people’s inboxes and headspace. Take more ownership over your decisions and only email people who need to be informed.
Alternatively, transfer the contents of your email to a platform that is open to the rest of your team, such as TribePulse, so that team members can chime in by choice and if they have something to add.
7. Establish procedures for periods of “Do not disturb” time
You’ve read this far, and maybe you’re thinking to yourself “I work in an open office, it’s impossible for me to avoid distractions”. Look around and see if there are established procedures that signal “Do not disturb” to your colleagues. Perhaps, you have an internal “status” system or maybe it is considered rude to interrupt someone when they have their headphones on. Small social cues like this can help you signal to others that you are trying to focus and they shouldn’t’ disturb you unless it’s legitimately urgent.
If you’re still struggling with open offices, even after our headphones tip, then consider moving to a different space for tasks that require deeper thought. Perhaps consider trying to find a quiet space in the office, a serviced office, or negotiate some time to work from home.
Share your tips with your colleagues
Workplaces that build a culture around minimizing distractions will enjoy the compounding benefit of a focused workforce that will leave their people feeling less stressed and ultimately more fulfilled.