That the human race is battling with distractions is an understatement. A popular NYC restaurant reviewed their surveillance videos from 2004 and 2014 and found a staggering difference in the average time it takes to service a customer. Following their research, they found that the average time that a customer spent in the restaurant from start to finish in 2004 was 1 hour and 5 minutes, while in 2014 the average time was 1 hour and 55 minutes (Source: DailyMail UK).

At the workplace, distraction is a much bigger issue. Apart from smartphones, social networking, emails, unnecessary meetings, gossip and frequent breaks are key contributors to this growing productivity killer. I came across this insightful research on iDoneThis about the actual impact of distractions. Here is an excerpt (Source: Idonethis).

It takes an average of about 25 minutes (23 minutes and 15 seconds, to be exact) to return to the original task after an interruption, according to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine.

In other words, that “30 seconds to check Twitter” isn’t just 30 seconds down the drain. Its 25 minutes and 30 seconds.

Extrapolate these numbers across the entire workforce and what you have is a ticking time bomb. In this blog, let’s look at some of the ways distraction can be addressed in the workplace.

Planning for outcomes

Every large outcome is a result of small steps taken every minute, hour, day, week and month by a large group of people. So it really comes down to how the minutes are spent. A major chunk of the workforce tends to look down upon planning as a time-consuming, boring activity and take pride in being spontaneous. It is important to realize that 30 minutes spent every day on planning tasks, meetings and to-do lists can amount to a huge increase in productivity and effectiveness.

This HBR article outlines an 18-minute plan for managing your day. Simple and very effective!

De-addict from Technology

Technology is meant to be used as an enabler. Unfortunately, the human race has been enslaved by smartphones, gadgets and internet technologies.

recent study surveyed almost 1,000 students in South Korea, where 72% of children own a smartphone by the age of 11 or 12 and spend on average 5.4 hours a day on them – as a result about 25% of children were considered addicted to smartphones. (Source: BBC).

The problem with this addiction is that people carry it to the workplace as well. With data costs coming down drastically, everybody is perpetually online all day long. People are spending hours on messaging, photography, online games and social networks and every alert seems very important to be ignored. This hyper-connectivity and instant gratification are leading to significant change in psychological behaviors and patterns. The impact of these behaviors on the workplace can be very damaging to productivity, efficiency, and culture in the long run.

That one needs to control time spent on gadgets, and social networking at work goes without saying. Putting the onus on employees to make the change will work better than imposing an organizational restriction on usage.

I came across this interesting article about Technology deaddiction on Some good tips in there!

Optimize time spent in meetings/calls

With collaboration being the driver of business, the number of hours spent in meetings and conference calls over the last decade has increased drastically. Unfortunately, the numbers paint a scary picture.

Over 15% of the organizational time is spent in meetings and executives consider about 70% of these meetings to be failures. The cost of unproductive meetings is about $37 bn per year, in the US alone. (Source: The Muse)

Of all the ways to manage distraction, meetings are the toughest to address since you don’t have complete control over it. Organisational culture has an important role to play here. Companies like Amazon have a very clear code for running meetings and time management in general. Meeting Guidelines need to address purpose, ownership, relevant audience, medium, agenda, moderation, information capture, actions and measurement of the impact of meetings on outcomes.

Work in blocks of time

A study by Microsoft reveals that the human attention span has become poorer than the goldfish…yes, goldfish! While there is a lot of debate about the authenticity of this study, the attention span issue is still pretty prevalent. Not being able to give a task its needed focus can affect productivity, timeliness, and quality.

Studies are saying that human beings can be up to 150% more productive if they work in blocks. Time Blocking techniques like the Pomodoro technique are hugely popular and are being widely used for better time management. The philosophy entails breaking down work into blocks of time, separated by short breaks.

The other way to do this is by dedicating a big block of time to just one task and focus only on completing that task – and keep away from anything distraction that comes your way.

When it comes to technique choose what suits you best and follow it with rigor. Here is a good resource from Wikihow on how to use time blocks.

Cut down on the chatter

When human beings get together, interaction is inevitable and healthy in the context of collaboration. However, when a lot of this banter gets becomes idle chit-chat or gossip, it is a clear warning sign for culture.

The problem with gossip is that it is typically started by a bunch of disgruntled employees who voluntarily indulge in polluting the work environment. The bigger issue is that it catches on and eventually more people become detractors.

The best way to get past this is to have clear boundaries and create a “do not disturb” zone both regarding space and time. The idea is to take control of your time and how you spend that time.

Read this articulate blog on Avoiding Disturbance at work by People Matters.

Remember, time is gold

A lot of people believe in creating a perception of being hardworking or very busy all the time. One may think that it helps job security, but that’s a very myopic view of the workplace. The only way to stop worrying about job security is to excel at what you do and keep working on acquiring skills and acumen. Then you are focusing your energies on becoming better, and that effort never goes vain.

You are a product of where and how you spend your time. Would you rather spend 14 hours at work and go home at unearthly hours every day just to show that you work hard or would you rather be smart and put in a focused 8 hours to achieve superlative outcomes. The smart ones take all the accolades and also find time to have a life outside of work!

I met a lawyer at a party recently, and he told me that when he got his degree, he did not know how he was going to make a living since lawyers can’t even advertise in India. Fast forward to present day, 25 years later, he had a thriving practice, and he has not worked past the 6 pm deadline a single day. He says his secret is that he only takes on cases he feels passionate about and gives them his complete attention. What he loses in volume, he makes up for it in quality and therefore price. That’s the secret; in the scheme of things at the workplace, you have complete control over how your career shapes up. Of course, there are external factors, but even in the tough phases, you make the choices.

Well, I hope you have a distraction-free and fulfilling personal and professional life. Have some experiences to share on keeping distractions away? Please leave a comment!

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