Making it Safe to Concentrate

5 min. read

Freedom from Distraction

A distraction is "a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else." At work, distractions are things that prevent employees from giving full attention to their work. Sometimes they harm productivity by reducing the amount of work employees can get done.

Distractions are a fact of life. Nobody expects to eliminate them. Productive people are able to accommodate a certain amount of distraction without serious negative impacts. In fact, some research indicates show that a level of distraction is normal and can spark innovation.

Significant, productivity-harming distraction is another story. This kind of distraction is mostly caused by the workplace itself, and it's the businesses that pay the price. U.S. businesses alone lose upwards of $650 billion per year due to employees being distracted during work hours.

Let's review the most common sources of distraction and how workplaces can reduce or eliminate them.

Stopping often to review emails, especially irrelevant ones.

Most people who do their work on computers are familiar with this one. You find yourself stopping work to answer the call of a chime or a little envelope at the bottom-right of the screen. You find dozens or hundreds of emails and have to sift through to find the ones you need to read or reply to (if any). Or maybe it's a steady drip: each email that comes in, you move your attention from the work at hand and look at the latest email.

Experts advise setting time to review emails, if possible. Many workers can do all of their email review once in the morning, once in the middle of the day, and once at the end. For those who need to see emails very quickly as they come in, email management is key: these employees need to set filters so that irrelevant emails like autoreplies, system emails, or sales chatter can go to separate folders outside of the inbox. Most email clients can be configured to only provide a notification for new emails in the inbox, so notifications can be reduced. Consider finding the right person in the organization to provide training on these healthy changes for email settings.

Attending constant, unnecessary, and unwanted meetings.

Office workers are spending on average almost 12 hours a week in meetings. There is nothing inherently bad about meetings, but it's leaders' and managers' job to ensure that it's time well-spent. Meetings can be well-spent in two ways:

  1. They can provide a venue for necessary communications relevant to the work of every employee in the meeting.
  2. The can provide a space and time for employees to socialize, connect, and have fun together.

If a meeting at any time is not one of these two things, it should be wrapped up. If it can't be established in advance that it will be one of these two things, it should be canceled.

Filling out boxes in burdensome project management software or productivity trackers.

It's common for employees to be spending unnecessary time meeting the requirements of their productivity software. A constant stream of comments, checks, and statuses bombards employees as they are doing their actual work. Here are some things to consider:

  • Are the applications that are doing this appropriate for each of the teams they are issued to? Many times project software or productivity software is rolled out to many teams across the company, even though it is only well-suited to certain teams in the company. Ask employees about their experiences with these tools.
  • Do employees need notifications and emails from these? Make it ok to turn off notifications or emails from these tools, at least during certain periods of time.
  • Can some tasks that are run through these tools be spun off or handled informally? Sometimes it is appropriate for employees to handle a simple task that does not require coordination without putting it into a piece of software. Only their manager can determine when that's ok, but consider allowing more of this.

Dealing with interruptions from life such as taking care of a child's needs or handling urgent personal business. Everyone has dealt with some level of personal distraction at work. While some employees have good habits and conditions in place to avoid personal distraction, others may need some help. That's when it becomes important to encourage employees to ask for help with this if they need it.

Behavioral design expert Nir Eyal explained in a recent CNBC piece that, “the problem of distraction at work is that we can’t talk about the problem of distraction at work.” Employees are often afraid that they will be punished or judged if they ask for help managing distractions. Eyal explains that the starting point for helping workers with their personal distractions is to make it safe to talk about them. “If they can’t raise their hand and say, ‘Hey, this is a problem for me,’ how can we solve it?” Managers should normalize talking about distractions by starting the conversation. They can say "Hey, if you need time to handle life things during the workday, let me know and we'll make sure its planned out for you." Employees may want to create interruption-free blocks of time on their schedules for work. They may also need to create additional blocks of time during the workday to address personal things, like picking up kids or walking pets.

Amazing Workplace's Smart Survey Platform gives workplaces a way to see if employees are distracted or feeling stressed. You can get our Smart Survey going for your workplace today!