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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

7 Ways to Concentrate Better in a Toxic Work Environment

7 Ways to Concentrate Better in a Toxic Work Environment

Many of us have had the misfortune of working in a toxic work environment, where the atmosphere in the workplace is filled will negativity and politics. It’s unpleasant and can lead to stress, anxiety, and gloom.

Many years ago, I found myself working in a small country house hotel and restaurant with a team of great front-of-house people who worked well together, but with a newly installed kitchen team that saw front-of-house employees as the enemy. They wanted to create conflict where there previously was none.

The kitchen team was led by a highly respected head chef who was a minor celebrity TV chef, and when he joined our hotel, he insisted on bringing in his own team. This meant the existing kitchen team was fired, almost without notice, and overnight we were dealing with a team of strangers.

At first managing this negative work culture was easy; we just stayed out of the kitchen as much as possible. But then one day, the general manager of the hotel left, and he was replaced by the head chef. From then on it felt like open warfare.

In less than a week, a workplace that was a pleasure to go to turned into a nightmare. I remember driving to work with a feeling of dread, bordering on fear. I wasn’t sleeping well, I smoked a lot more, and I had this constant, horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, even on days when I was not working.

I remember one evening after we had finished a shift, and all the customers and kitchen team had gone home, sitting down with a colleague to talk about the situation. I was fortunate as my colleague was a little older and wiser than I, and he had a forward-looking, philosophical attitude to life. He taught me that no matter the environment you were working in, if you focus on doing your best work every day, and avoided getting caught up in the politics, you would rise above it.

Looking back now, I am glad I experienced this culture. I learned a lot about how to deal with negativity in a toxic work environment, and the lessons I learned then still help me today.

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Here are seven lessons I learned from experiencing two years of working in a highly toxic workplace environment.

1. Don’t Get Sucked in

We are faced with a choice in a toxic work environment. You can react to the negativity and become part of the problem, or you can rise above it. Rising above it involves not being provoked. Allow the negativity to pass over you.

Instead, focus on doing the best work you can. When you arrive at work, start your day. If you are in sales, focus on being the best sales person. If you are in administration, focus on making sure you do your work accurately and in a timely way. If you are a bars’ manager (as I was), make sure your bar is clean, stocked, and open for business when the first customer comes in.

Don’t give the negative influences an excuse to attack you.

2. Become a Beacon of Positivity

Often a toxic work environment is caused by attacks on your colleagues or a specific individual. When you see this happening, become a rock of support for the person or people experiencing these attacks. Be nice, attentive, and understanding. If you see your colleague make a mistake, quietly fix the mistake or gently point it out.

Never attack or be negative. Saying things like “Don’t let it get you down” never helps. Instead, be a good listener, offer support, and take your attacked colleague out for lunch and give them the space to talk things through.

In toxic work environments, having a non-judgmental colleague who offers support, an ear to listen, and kindness applies an antidote to the stress, upset, and fear[1].

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Surviving a toxic work environment

    3. Have a Plan

    The best way to stay away from the negativity is to have a plan for the day. How will you start the day? What tasks will you accomplish by the end of the day?

    Having a plan for the day takes your focus away from the toxicity around you and puts your focus on doing your work.

    For me, I made sure the first task I did when I arrived at work was to clean my bar and make sure my fridges were stocked. I did not want to give an excuse to the unpleasant members of the team to attack me. My purpose every morning was to set an example, to be ready for when the diners came in. And when the diners did come in, I gave them my full, undivided attention.

    This focus on my plan for the day kept me away from the politics. It gave me a positive purpose and enabled me to stay above what was going on around me.

    4. Stay Away From the Toxic People

    This is often easier said than done. Sometimes, the toxic people in your organization are your bosses and are unavoidable. However, in most workplaces today, there are quiet corners where you can get on with your work. Go there.

    Working in an open-plan office can leave us at the mercy of disruptive colleagues and bosses. But if you can find yourself a quiet corner from where you can get your head down and do you work, you will, for the most part, stay away from the negative forces working around you.

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    When you “hang out” with the toxic people, they will drag you into their toxicity. Quietly and calmly explaining you have a lot of work to get on with and moving to a different place leaves you less vulnerable to their negative influence.

    5. Talk to Your HR Department

    This is one where you need to be careful. You do not want to make accusations or get involved in a blame game when you’re in a toxic work environment. Instead, you want to explain to your HR department that you find it difficult working with a particular person or team[2].

    Where possible, make it out that this is your fault, not theirs—you do not want to make things worse for yourself. Explain that for you to do your work, you need to be moved somewhere else so you can concentrate and be more focused.

    In a toxic environment, you will find your HR team are likely fully aware of the problem and will understand your request and do whatever they can to accommodate you.

    The worst thing you can do is ignore the problem. If the situation is preventing you from doing your work, you need to have that conversation with HR, or if you do not have an HR department, your boss.

    You can learn more about when to go to HR or your boss here.

    6. Listen to Music

    Buy yourself some headphone, not earphones. This is a trick I use on airplanes. Sometimes I want to be left alone to think, read, or just be left with my thoughts. Having my headphones on stops my fellow passengers from interrupting me with questions about what I do, where I’m from, and where I’m going.

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    In a toxic workplace, wearing headphones achieves the same result. When we see someone with a pair pf headphones on, we automatically leave them alone unless we urgently need to ask them something.

    Whether you actually listen to music or not is less important. The wearing of headphones prevents interruptions and allows you to quietly get on with your work.

    7. Work From Home

    With the current global pandemic, the ability to work from home is more accessible than ever before. Being able to stay outside your toxic work environment will allow you to focus on your work and not on what is going on around you.

    If you do have the option to work from home, then do so. One thing I learned is that the people causing the toxic environment do not last long in a company. They either move on by their accord or are fired or moved to another position where they can cause less harm.

    Final Thoughts

    I have intentionally not suggested that you leave your job, but if you do find yourself feeling stressed and fearful, then the best advice would be to find another company. Nobody should work in a toxic work environment, and if you have taken all the necessary steps to resolve the issue with your company and nothing changes, then you should take steps to leave.

    I understand this can be very difficult, particularly with a difficult job environment, but the harm to your health and wellbeing is not worth it. If you need the income, then start looking for a new job. The good news is most companies do not have toxic work cultures, and with a little effort, you should be able to find a new job.

    More on Dealing With a Negative Workplace

    Featured photo credit: Siavash Ghanbari via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Carl Pullein

    Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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    Published on January 18, 2021

    How To Log Your Daily Activities And Manage Your Time Better

    How To Log Your Daily Activities And Manage Your Time Better

    Go to business school, and you’ll hear it over and over again: What gets measured gets managed. Often attributed to Peter Drucker, this maxim also applies to time management.[1] The best way to improve your time management is to log your daily activities. Simply seeing how your time is spent empowers you to be more productive.

    Before you begin recording your daily activities, you have two choices to make—where to do it and how to do it. Let’s discuss them both.

    Where to Log Your Daily Activities

    Generally speaking, you have two options for logging your daily activities: physically or digitally. Although there’s no “right” answer, there are reasons why people choose one over the other.

    Digital Logging

    For a few reasons, many people prefer to log their tasks in a calendar or productivity software:

    1. Accessibility

    Who wants to carry a planner everywhere they go? Digital tracking tools can be accessed from your phone, which is probably in your pocket from when you wake up to when you hit the hay. They can also be pulled up on your computer, where you’ll analyze the data.

    2. Customizability

    Do you like to view your tasks as a calendar or a list? Do you like to categorize them by type, participant, timeline, or something else? Do you color-code them? Digital activity logging tools put you in the driver’s seat. If you change your mind about a layout or color choice, you can always adjust it later.

    3. Cost

    Have you priced planners recently? A nice, hardback one can cost you a pretty penny. If you go this route, don’t buy online.

    “One of the best things you can do is go out to a store and touch the planner, feel it and really look at it,” explains Jackie Reeve, who writes for The New York Times’ Wirecutter project. Most digital tracking tools are free. Some offer paid versions with more features, but even these are competitive with bound paper planners.

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    Still, not everyone uses software to log their daily activities. So, what do the paper-planner folks like about them?

    Physical Logging

    Just as some people prefer print books to e-books, some would rather log their daily activities on paper. This option has a few advantages.

    1. Memorization

    Research suggests that writing things down helps us commit them to memory. If you’re trying to memorize a new routine, a paper activity planner might be your best bet.

    2. Privacy

    Although software companies spend a lot on data security, the reality is that breaches happen. If you worry about your schedule or activities leaking out to the wrong person, a paper planner could be the right choice.

    Remember that paper logging puts more of the responsibility on your shoulders. Nobody is going to read your activity log if you keep it in a safe deposit box. But at the same time, how are you going to access it?

    3. Visibility

    To access your digital activity tracker, you need to think about it, pull up the app on your phone or computer, and log in. If you post a paper log in the right place, all you need to do is take a glance at it.

    This is why many business professionals still keep a paper calendar on their desk, despite also maintaining a digital one. Nothing jogs the mind like a visual reminder.

    Once you’ve decided where to put your activity data, you need to actually log and analyze it. Practice by clocking how long it takes you to review my six tips for doing so.

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    How to Track Your Daily Activities

    Some activities are easier to log than others. Digital ones, like videoconferences, might already be on your calendar by virtue of the invite you sent out. Others, like that wilderness hike you took on a whim, may require some planning and estimation.

    Here’s where to start:

    1. Check Your Calendar

    Does what’s on your calendar match how you actually spend your time and how you want to be spending your time? It should, says Breakout Blueprint author Doug Foley—“If you learn to own your calendar instead of letting it own you, that’s the first step to building the life you want.”[2]

    If it doesn’t, clean up your calendar. Remove activities and events that are no longer relevant. Say “no” to things you don’t want or can’t do. Fill those slots with activities that get you closer to your goals.

    2. Use a Time Tracker

    To track digital activities, use activity tracking tools like Toggl or Harvest. They can pull event details from your calendar and prompt you to log the amount of time you actually spent on each activity.

    These tools are easiest to use with a widget, a miniaturized version of a program that displays only its essential tools. Time-tracking widgets let you start, pause, and stop the activity timer as you work.

    If you’d prefer to use a physical activity log, get a stopwatch. Your phone has one built-in, or you can carry one on in your pocket if you prefer the track-coach experience. Either way, remembering to press “start” and “stop” after each activity takes practice. Expect to spend about two weeks building the habit.

    3. Get Time Bounds Down to the Minute

    When tracking your time, it’s easy to round. Perhaps you forget to click “start” on the timer, so you call it 3:25 p.m. instead of 3:23 p.m. Maybe your log from yesterday has a gap at 4 p.m., so you assume that you started the next task listed then.

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    While that might not seem like a big deal, think about how it skews your activity log. Not only is your time for that task now inaccurate, but it may also cause you to shift the start or end times for tasks adjacent to it.

    Sloppy logging becomes an even bigger issue when you need to analyze how you’re spending your time. If every five-minute “review email” task is off by two minutes, your analysis may lead you to believe that you’re spending barely half as much time in your email as you actually are.

    4. Take Notes

    Was your son or daughter distracting you while you were finishing up that proposal email? No wonder it took twice as long as the previous ones. Make note of the reason why in your activity log.

    If you go the paper route, don’t do this in pen. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t make some sort of correction to my planner (more on that in a moment). Digital trackers allow you to not just attach notes to each activity, but update them as you wish.

    When it comes to logging your time, the “why” matters just as much as the “when” and “how long.” You need to know why certain tasks took more or less time than expected if you want to become a better time manager.

    5. Ask for Corrections

    No matter how meticulous you are, everyone makes mistakes. If you’re logging a group activity—whether it’s a marketing campaign at work or cooking dinner at home—ask others in the group to periodically check your activity log.

    Chances are good your time log will differ slightly from that of your partners. What’s important isn’t whose time is right, but identifying the types of tasks where discrepancies are common. Tasks that aren’t being logged correctly can’t be analyzed or acted on with confidence.

    6. Back It Up

    How good is your memory? Could you recite the last month of your activity log if it were lost or stolen? Probably not.

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    If you use a paper activity tracker, take a photo of it each week. Upload the photos to a cloud storage solution like Google Drive. If you use a digital one, back up your activity log on a local storage device. You never know when the company behind your tracker is going to go bust.

    7. Dig Into the Data

    Once you have a month or more of activity data—and are confident it’s logged correctly—the fun begins. You can make better use of your time by analyzing how you’ve been spending it.

    How you slice the data depends on what you want to do with it. Maybe all you need is a billable hours figure at the end of each month. That’s easy—just add up all the activities you did on behalf of your clients in the past four weeks.

    Using your activity log to improve your personal life requires you to think about your interests and ideals. Does your morning routine consistently leave you enough time to eat breakfast? If not, you might need to start waking up earlier. Is your salaried job forcing you to work well beyond 40 hours per week? Then, it might be time to start looking for a new one.

    Do More, Do Better

    Your routine might not seem like anything special. But if you log your daily activities, you’ll see that you do a lot each day.

    To better manage your time—either by cutting out unnecessary tasks or completing your existing ones more efficiently—you need to track your time. Opportunities for optimization are there—you just have to get started in identifying them.

    More Tips on How to Manage Your Time Better

    Featured photo credit: Paico Oficial via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: What Can’t Be Measured
    [2] Author Hour: Breakout Blueprint: Doug Foley

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