Productivity can hold you back and hold your company back, as many reports now find.

productive-timetable

Productivity is getting more and more attention as the realisation that what you get done, and not how many hours you spend at the office, is what counts. Productivity will affect that promotion you want, getting a great review, or building the character people see.

The good thing about productivity measures being taken by companies is that many have moved from the rigid 9 to 5, 40-hours-a-week drudgery to understanding that people often can’t force all aspects of their life into such a model. In the end, some part of their life will suffer and that in turn will affect their productivity.

For most knowledge workers today, i.e., workers whose currency is knowledge and not physical labour, working flexibly is possible. A laptop, an internet connection and a phone can achieve a lot in a day. But whether you are working from home or working at the office, there are distractions that need to be recognised and individuals need to know how to counteract them before suddenly realising that an hour has been lost that can never be gotten back.

We often slip into allowing distractions to control our lives. You can regain control.

What are the top distractions from work and how can you counteract them?

1. People

Chatty co-worker/loud headphones

Most people are nice. Don’t be afraid to approach co-workers and let them know (kindly) that they are distracting you from your tasks. Suggest that they take their conversations to the cafeteria, to a quiet corner, or to lower their voice if that is sufficient for you. Ask them to take the headphone sound down a decibel or two. Make it clear that you are not trying to be a pest. You just need quiet time to get your stuff done.

Constant questions

If it’s a newbie, cut them some slack. However, if it persists then some steps need to be taken to limit the amount of distraction constant questioning causes. Ask your colleague to be sure that the question needs to be answered “right now” (i.e. is it inhibiting them from their work or is it merely “good to know” or “can be done later”). Authority to approve tasks can be delegated to others. You can designate times of the day when you answer questions over chat or in a brief meeting.

Loud phone voice

Thankfully, more and more mobile phones are being used rather than fixed lines. This means whoever is causing the distraction has the power to move out of earshot if they can’t self-regulate their vocal chords. Similar to the first point, be friendly about it and ask your colleague/friend/whoever to take the call in another room. It’s quite possible that they didn’t even realise they were shouting!

Family

Working from home can be awesome and difficult, but everything can get done with good planning. At the beginning of the day have a list of what needs to get done, at what time it needs to be done, the estimated length of the activity, and how much that leaves you for your work. You can orient your family to know when you need to be left alone and when you are available. A good recommendation is to break your work into 90 minute stints. This is time enough to get focused and also give your brain regular breaks to refresh and process information.

2) Things

Cluttered desk/computer/inbox

A cluttered desk stresses us out more, whether we like to admit it or not. Have the self-discipline to keep on top of it and it will never get out of control. Spend a day (or whatever time necessary) getting everything in order and at the end of each day make sure your items are filed, correctly piled or otherwise organized into something that makes sense to you. If you find yourself saying “it’s here somewhere” then your system is not working. Delete/dump stuff that you really don’t need, or at least transfer it to cloud storage/hard disk so it’s out of your way and out of your mind. Label or categorise items immediately. Don’t waste precious time being disorganized!

Internet

Self-discipline is crucial here. But if self-discipline doesn’t work, add-ons can be installed that block you from accessing chosen sites at particular hours of the day.

IM and SMS messages

Make use of the “invisible” or “busy” button. Decide when you are going to be live and for how long, and send colleagues your schedule. It works similar to office hours. It depends on the job, of course – IM can be essential for some tasks, especially long-distance teamwork. Just be smart about it. In return, don’t spam your own workmates with irrelevant messages. Strike a balance, remembering that whilst you do want a good rapport with your colleagues, your goal is to GET THINGS DONE!

Your chair

Ah, the chair. Too comfy and you get relaxed and drift off. Too rigid and you get a sore back. If a major portion of your day is spent in a chair, invest in the best one possible for lumbar support. Similarly, if you spend a lot of time in the car or on an airplane, find products that can increase the health of your body rather than deplete it. Your company may even chip in on it for you. Health is one of our greatest assets, never take it for granted.

3) Sights

Overly stimulating/dull workspace

There is nothing that puts me off working more than a grey cubicle. Worse: rows of grey cubicles. Office design has taken a turn for the fun and bright in recent years, with gaming corners and even massage therapists making regular appearances. You don’t have control of the whole office design, but if you work from home or you have a little space of your own then build it to be a place that makes you want to get things done. Surround yourself with things that motivate you. Is it a photo of someone whom you want to make proud? Is it a personal hero that you want to emulate? Is it a quote that nails exactly what you need to hear when you find yourself drifting off? What about the colour of your immediate surroundings? Can you control it? I personally can’t stand white walls. They remind me of hospitals, school and waiting rooms. Make sure that your work area exudes positive energy for you, and try not to clutter it with toys and gimmicks that send you off on nostalgic daydreams. Or take some advice on what not to have on your desk from this post.

The view

My office has an incredible view. High enough to see over the city, beside the sea and overlooking the train and metro stations. As I spend quite a bit of time at my job writing, I find the view inspirational. It can also cause me to drift off, as you can imagine! So my method is simply to sit with my back to the window during my focus hours, and let myself soak the sights in during lunch if I wish to. Alternatively, I put myself in a back office where there is no view and I don’t have to force myself to look in only one direction. Being at street-level can cause even more distractions. The noise of traffic, the movement of people, the sound of emergency vehicles… investing in a good set of blinds can help. As for the noise – perhaps sound-eliminating headphones are required in this case!

4) Environment

Air conditioning/heating

Ideally you know the temperature you’re comfortable at and can control it. Keep the air fresh enough so as to keep you alert but not so fresh that it makes you ill. I keep a woolly sweater at my desk as well in case my colleagues need more air than I. Finding your optimal temperature zone requires trying and testing, but it should generally be 22 – 25 Celsius (72 – 77 Fahrenheit).

productivity vs temperature

Lighting

With our eyes already strained from looking at screens all day, it is important to also control the lighting. Incorrect lighting can result in headaches, tiredness and sore eyes – all leading to irritability and getting less done. Lighting should not glare, flicker, be uneven or cause you to lean in close in order to read something.

The infographic breaks down the ideals when it comes to meetings, desk organization, and digital organization. It’s definitely worth a look. Infographic For The Win! How to Curb Distractions and Improve Productivity

Featured photo credit: birgerkingvia Flickr

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