School is back in session and the lazy, hazy days of summer are now behind us. Did you notice a decline in productivity across your workplace over these last couple of months? If so, you are not alone. A recent productivity study showed that workplace productivity drops significantly during the summer months. Employee attendance decreases by 19 percent during this time as workers choose this popular time to take their family vacations. Even when employees are present, they aren’t entirely productive. The study also showed that employees are 45% more distracted during this time as they are likely thinking of the vacations they are about to take, just took, or wish they were taking.
Fall presents an excellent time to get back on track. You’ve heard repeatedly that using technology is a key to being more productive. That’s true when it’s used correctly. Some of the tools you use every day to increase productivity can actually distract you from getting your most important tasks done. Here are three common culprits and how to take control of them to be your most productive self this fall:
Knowledge workers spend an average of 28% of their time reading and responding to email. While it is a convenient way to communicate, the distraction caused by email can adversely affect worker productivity. Take control of the impact email has on your day. My advice is that you aim to empty your inbox every single day. It may sound tough, but it’s worth it. Here is how I achieve that goal:
First, unsubscribe to unnecessary newsletters and solicitations you never read. Those emails lead to clutter in your inbox that can both overwhelm and distract you from what is important.
Second, set a time to check and respond to email. If the email requires an action, do it then. If the email is a task that belongs to someone else in your workplace, delegate it. If the email is junk, delete it (after you unsubscribe from the mailing to stop future messages). Archive messages you may want to refer back to at a later date.
Stick to your schedule. Do not use email as a boredom buster or a reason to break away from what you should really be doing.
- Mobile Phone Notifications
Phone calls, instant messages, text messages, email alerts, social media notifications…..your phone can become a constant source of disruption if you let it. Your smartphone offers you the opportunity to be productive when on the go, but if you aren’t careful, it can serve as the ultimate source of distraction keeping you from staying on task. I have fallen victim in the past to the Pavlovian response that so quickly develops from every cell phone buzz, ding or ring. It can be very difficult to ignore your notifications once you develop the habit of immediately responding to every sound.
Phone notifications do not just disrupt your productivity, they increase the number of errors you make as well. Florida State University conducted a test to discover how text messages impacted participants’ accuracy on a simple test of focus. The study found that individuals who received text messages during the test made three times the number of errors than their non-text receiving counterparts even if they did not check the messages. The participants’ curiosity about who sent the text and what it was about distracted them to the point that it negatively impacted their performance on the test.
Do you really need an instant notice or alert every time someone follows you on Twitter or posts a message to your Facebook wall? Take control and turn off non-essential notifications. Not only will you stay on task, but you’ll reduce the number of errors you make as well.
- Social Media
Social media can be a wonderful asset to your organization. You can use it to promote your business, equip your sales team with intelligence about prospective customers, and stay on top of the latest information related to your market. Checking social media sites is also one of the most common ways we interrupt ourselves from doing the work we should be doing.
If you find yourself having a hard time breaking the habit, there are free apps to help you with that. SelfRestraint for PC users and SelfControl for Mac users are applications that save you from yourself. Both allow you to identify the websites that are distracting to you and set a blackout time. Even restarting your computer will not grant you access to those sites during that time. The use of these applications isn’t just limited to social media sites. You can use them to help you block your access to any website you find to be a distraction.
Email, mobile phones and social media are here to stay. With a little strategy and discipline, you can ensure you reap the benefits these tools have to offer while staying productive.