By Diamond Richardson
You come into the office and work through your inbox. An e-mail comes in; your boss needs you to handle a client issue ASAP. A co-worker comes to your desk to ask if you can edit his proposal before he has to submit it in an hour. Another co-worker comes by 10 minutes later to discuss lunch plans.
It does not take much to imagine the result of all of these interruptions. You finish the pressing task for your boss, edit your co-worker’s proposal and finalize lunch plans. But the original task you were working on, the one that should have taken you an hour to finish has now sucked up two hours of your day. The chances of getting through that to-do list are looking slimmer than ever.
Your co-workers are killing your productivity. A study conducted by job placement firm Mom Corps found that 53 percent of workers thought they would get more work done if they could work from home sometimes, free from co-worker distractions. A FlexJobs study found that the number one reason people want to work from home was to work without interruptions from co-workers. It even beat out avoiding a commute. A 2009 Stanford study found that constant interruptions makes it harder to focus on one task, even when we are no longer being interrupted.
We work in a business environment that becomes faster and faster-paced every day. The constant flow of new technology into our work and personal lives makes “right now” a possible time frame for every request. We can check e-mail any time from a number of different devices. Our cell phones are glued to our hands. Social networks make it easy to see what anyone is doing. These innovations have made tasks much easier and cheaper, but at what cost?
Julie Morgenstern, author of “Never Check E-mail in the Morning,” says e-mail is an “interruption chute.” She believes it constantly rips our focus away from the actual meat of our jobs and pulls our focus to smaller, less-important tasks. But we also have to take responsibility for some of our interruptions. When is the last time you shut your phone off for a few hours at work to focus solely on a major project? And you probably sneak a peek at your Twitter as the afternoon wears on. Workplace columnist Rex Huppke says we have so many options to distract ourselves and interruptions coming in from co-workers that it is hard to fit everything into a typical workday. As a result, we feel like we have to multi-task, which makes us even less productive.
What can we do to get back to the days where we had something to do and we just did it, no interruptions? Here are a few tips:
- Shift your work flow from little-big to big-little: When it comes to productivity, checking e-mails and fielding requests from co-workers puts you in the” little-big” category: you are so busy taking care of the little things people need from you that you never tackle your own to-do list. Plan to tackle at least one or two major tasks before looking at your e-mail or saying yes to a co-worker’s request for help.
- Just turn it off: Before you start on that major task, turn off your cell, hide your e-mail notifications and block yourself from Twitter. Set a timer and work the entire time, distraction free. After you have dedicated a chunk of time to a task, you should not feel bad about checking your e-mail. But tackling major tasks should always be how you begin your work day.
- Get your co-workers on board: Your co-workers will not know they are killing your productivity unless you tell them. Ask your boss for time at a meeting to discuss what Morgenstern calls “work streams.” Suggest setting periods of time for uninterrupted work, with no e-mails and personal visits unless it is truly an emergency. Having everyone on the same page will make being productive much easier.
How do you stay productive with all of the workplace interruptions at your office?