On average, it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus on a task after you've been distracted from it. It doesn't matter whether the distraction is a phone call, an email alert, a bothersome co-worker, or something else. At work, every interruption means at least 20 or so minutes of lost productivity.
Multiply that by your number of employees and the number of things that typically distract them throughout the day. Productivity can make or break a company, so it's clear that eliminating as many distractions as possible for your employees is more than just a good idea.
There are countless things that can be considered distractions--some more impactful than others--so preventing them takes understanding the specific behaviors of your employees. That said, these four strategies are generally a good place to start:
1. Emphasize being on task over being present.
Managers are prone to lamenting absenteeism, but did you know that presenteeism can cost companies between $150 billion and $250 billion each year? "Just because an employee is physically in the office doesn't mean that person is actively contributing," says Tom Murphy, managing partner at Sonus Benefits. "An employee who is sick, exhausted, distraught, or distracted can easily cause problems for you and your team." To help address presenteeism in the workplace, an increasing number of employers are turning to flexible workspace policies, and you can, too. Little things like allowing employees to come in a little late or leave a little early (with proper notification, of course) can go a long way in helping them balance work and life responsibilities.
Also, paid sick time will encourage your team members to stay home and get better rather than coming to work when they can't really be productive. Of course, we all know that today's work environment isn't restricted to the office. The right technology and an internet connection make it possible for employees to accomplish almost anything from anywhere at any time. Bottom line: It's more important to emphasize that your employees complete tasks on time than that they be present in the office every day.
2. Save meetings for meaningful discussions.
Even with a more flexible workplace model, having constant, mandatory meetings can be counterproductive. The point of holding meetings should be to solve problems or brainstorm new ideas. Holding them routinely, such as every week, can drain employee motivation and morale as much as it squanders their time.
A recent People Management survey suggests that all those hours devoted to meetings can equate to about 15 percent of employees' time at work. Every year, the lost time can cost companies in the U.S. up to $37 billion. Improve productivity and avoid wasting employees' (and the company's) time by scheduling meetings only when absolutely necessary.
3. Encourage team members to mute or turn off non-work notifications.
Technology makes it easier for employees to stay on task, but it can also be an addictive distraction. A personal email or Facebook notification will automatically draw their attention, and if they respond, that just adds to the time lost. In fact, 78 percent of respondents in a Udemy survey last year admit that using tech for personal reasons is their biggest workplace distraction.
You can't dictate what employees look at on their own devices, but you can educate them on how to use their personal devices and social media in ways that don't negatively impact their productivity. Encourage them to turn their devices' notifications off during most of the day, perhaps allotting a short break to check updates and answer messages. You could also clue your team into phone apps that help users decrease the amount of time spent on social media by preventing them from logging in more than a certain amount of time each day.
4. Teach your team time management as a skill.
Limiting the amount of time your team spends on personal devices is a great start, but even work-related distractions, such as emails, can cost valuable time. Good time management is the foundation of productivity, and that's especially true when it comes to minimizing distractions while you're working. Help your team members make the most of every minute by teaching them good time management skills.
For instance, have employees identify when they're most productive and then block all emails and other notifications during those hours. You can also show them how grouping similar work tasks together in their day can make them more productive by reducing how often they need to mentally shift from one type of task to another. Or encourage them to use the Pomodoro Technique, which entails setting a timer so they can track how long they are spending on a certain task and take a mental break when needed.
Sometimes, you can't help but be distracted by something or other. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't put every effort into minimizing those distractions and teaching your employees or team to do the same. Your--and their--time is simply too precious to waste.