by Art Piccio . January 13th, 2012
In the first part of this series, we discussed how distractions at work are costing businesses, as well as why you should take account of it. You don’t need to have Michael Scott for a boss to know just how bad it can get:
You can’t have a discussion about office distractions without bringing up multitasking. As far as dealing with inevitable multitasking goes, we have to -yet again- discuss goal-setting. You have to determine what’s important and what’s not and set your priorities from there. Then it’s a matter of ignoring everything outside the list.
In 2003, tech writer Danny O’Brien tried to figure out why he wasn’t getting enough done at work. He made a list of the most “sickeningly prolific” people he knew- overwhelmingly from the tech industry. He then asked them how they managed to do so much.
They overwhelmingly preferred to open a simple word processor and lay out all the things that need to be done for the day –everything. Electronic PDAs and older generations of tablet computers were not nearly as effective – mainly because of all the steps it took to do an action.
Another effective mnemonic device is old fashioned index cards bound with binder clips, AKA the hipster PDA. Surprisingly enough, the old “to-do list on a Post-it on your monitor” trick has been found to be one of the most effective ways of maintaining focus. Some suggest that recent generations of tablet computers may be effective as well.
O’ Brien’s realization was that unless the information you needed was accessible and right in front of you (say you lose track of it because you got distracted), you would likely forget it, and take a significant time cycling back to full productivity.
Office Ergonomics Takes a Cue From Fighter Planes
The fact you waste productivity by cycling between tasks is not a new realization. It’s been a recognized phenomenon ever since the 1840s, when telegraph operators were observed to be less able to cope with their jobs when being engaged in conversation.
This observation eventually led to the science of workstation ergonomics and had an impact in countless fields. Fighter planes for instance, have cockpits that are meticulously designed so that the indicators do not compete with other for attention unless the pilot really needs to know something important.
In a sense, most office workers are like fighter pilots- except most of us have only a small computer screen to view things, so when you check one application, you might have to put another one out of view, hence making it more possible you will forget something.
Imagine you had to work with a desk that had the real estate of a typical monitor. You probably wouldn’t get anything done!
One solution to is to have workstations with multiple monitors, each dedicated to certain applications so that they are kept in view. This has been proven to increase productivity in some offices anywhere from 10 to 40 percent.
Perhaps the most interesting idea many businesses are trying with great results is maintaining “Library Hours” or “Quiet time”.
These are hours when instant messengers and e-mail clients are turned off, and no one can bother anyone about anything. No special requests, no e-mails, no inbound or outbound calls, no music apart from what you have on a personal device, no meetings, no questions, and generally no talking and no asking for help from anyone.
Everyone will then work on whatever they deem is their most important task, or use the period to browse the internet, recharge their brain, sleep, or do whatever they want without bugging anyone.
Quiet time (normally 1.5-2 hours) is normally scheduled early on in the shift, so workers have more energy to concentrate. Workplaces that have tried this system report overwhelmingly much more productivity and employee satisfaction after implementation.
Since employees often tend to work late hours to make up time lost being distracted, Quiet Time may provide the breather we need so that we become masters of technology, instead of its slaves.
Office Distractions – Part One: How Divided Attention Costs Businesses
Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.