If you’re concerned about your own or your employees’ productivity, you may be dealing with one of the following flowbreakers, say James Manktelow and Julian Birkinshaw, coauthors of Mind Tools for Managers: 100 Ways to Be a Better Boss. Keep reading to learn their advice for managing distractions so that you all can be more productive:
Smartphones and now smartwatches have blurred the line between personal and professional communication. Now you can receive work emails and calls on the same device as private Facebook comments, Instagram photos, and an array of other personal information. When focusing on a particular piece of work, and especially meetings, put away your phones. That way you can devote your attention entirely to the project at hand.
Email, email and more email
Many emails in your inbox are probably not particularly important, and yet you may feel you must look at them when they arrive. Instead, try these tactics:
- Schedule checking time. Turn off the alerts, and check and respond to messages at set times instead. This helps you manage your coworkers’, managers’, and customers’ expectations about how and when you will reply to them.
- Choose “low-productivity” times. There are times of the day when you do your best work. Schedule email check-ins for your less-productive times, and save your peak hours for high-value work.
- Turn emails into actions. If you need more than a few minutes to read an email, add it to your to-do list.
Social media and web browsing
Both are major productivity killers. Trouble is, organizations can no longer block people’s access to websites that aren’t work-related—smartphones can easily get around this. So it’s up to the individual to use social media and the rest of the web responsibly. Set some ground rules for employees and ask for their commitment. While you can’t guarantee they won’t log in or browse, you at least set your expectations. Encourage them to use a brief personal browsing session as a reward for an hour or two of high-quality, focused work.
Nerve-jangling phone calls
The ring of a phone often prompts an intense need to answer, even when you’re in deep concentration. To minimize this source of distraction for you and your team, consider arranging a rotation so that team members can take calls for one another. Also be sure to let friends and family know that you will be available for calls only at lunchtime or in the evening.
Coworkers’ annoying behaviors
Rather than trying to ignore such distractions as strong cooking smells or loud colleagues, get away from the problem. Set yourself up in an empty meeting room to regain your focus. Or wear noise-canceling headphones or play “white noise” to blank out anything that would otherwise grab your attention.
Colleagues visiting your desk can be a big source of distraction, but you’re also a manager who wants to be available for your team members. So, if you don’t want to be disturbed at times when you need to focus on a task, consider either working at home or in a conference room. If you have your own office, close the door and tell your team that you need to be left alone to concentrate for a while.
Shortfalls in your own well-being
It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to juggle your priorities, manage other people and have the discipline to focus for long periods each day. So, it’s vital that you take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep and make sure you drink enough water, as dehydration can make you feel tired and impact your thinking. It’s also important to get some fresh air and take a brisk walk during the day—this will energize you. And try to avoid heavy lunches and sugar-laden snacks, as they can lead to a slump in concentration later in the day.
“It’s easier than ever to lose track of what you should be doing at work, but you can still take steps to avoid distractions and improve flow,” concludes Birkinshaw. “Learning to better manage these ‘flow breakers’ is a valuable skill that can be practiced and sharpened over time. And when you can achieve flow more easily, you will not only become a better manager, but you’ll set a great example for your team as well.”
For more information, please refer to Mind Tool 12-1: .
About the Authors:
James Manktelow is founder and CEO of MindTools.com. He has written, edited, and contributed to more than 1,000 articles, more than sixty workbooks, and seven books and e-books on management and leadership, including Manage Your Time and Manage Stress.
Julian Birkinshaw is professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, deputy dean for programs, and academic director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School. He is the author of fourteen books, including Fast/Forward, Becoming a Better Boss, and Reinventing Management.