4 real fixes for workplace distraction

Monday, March 21, 2016

Face it, you're easily distracted. But it's okay, you're not alone.

Sometime between the popularization of the graphical user interface in the 1980s and now, a screen has been placed in front of the face of every office worker. And access to distracting content online only keeps becoming more accessible and more commonplace.

But Facebook, Pinterest and the unremitting cat video aren't the only source of distraction. Sometimes distractions come from work-related causes, like the endless flow of emails or inquisitive co-workers.

Either way, the consequences of workplace distraction are alarming. According to a University of California Irvine study, workers are distracted or switch tasks at work every 11 minutes on average. Gloria Mark, who led the study, told MONEY that it takes on average 23 minutes for a worker to fully regain his or her focus.

If you're doing the math, you can see why it's sometimes so difficult to stay on task at work. But never fear — here are some real solutions that you or your employer can put in place to help curb workplace distraction.

Stop multitasking

Or better yet, stop trying to multitask. According to some research, humans can't actually multitask, reports NPR. They just shift their attention rapidly from one task to another, and back again.

This kind of fragmented work, however, can have many negative outcomes.

According to brain health researcher Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, chronic multitasking can exhaust your mind, increase stress and even lead to early mental decline.

"The truth is, your brain is not designed to do more than one thing at a time," Chapman writes for Forbes. "Frequently switching between tasks overloads the brain and makes you less efficient. It’s a formula for failure in which your thoughts remain on the surface level and errors occur more frequently."

So how do you kick the multitasking habit? Chapman recommends taking some time to just zone out.

"You will be more productive if, several times a day, you step away from mentally challenging tasks for three to five minutes," Chapman writes. "Taking a break will help make room for your next inspired idea."

You can also avoid the noise of endless to-do lists by choosing just two to three priority tasks in a single day and tackling those tasks one at a time.

Software for a less distracted workforce

Everyone knows by now that flat-out blocking sites like Facebook and Twitter doesn't work anymore.

For one, the Wall Street Journal points out, employees can easily find workarounds for blocking systems and even more importantly, many jobs now have work-related uses for social media and other sites that previously were only used for distractions.

But without any form of regulation, employees waste 60 to 80 percent of their time spent online at work, reports the WSJ. This lapse in productivity called "cyberloafing" costs U.S. companies an estimated $85 billion per year.

Attempting to strike a balance between utter censorship and the hours of work lost to cyberloafing, researchers at Arizona State University designed a new software.

Their system allows users to browse sites like Facebook, but on-screen messages remind workers that what they're doing may not be work related.

If a worker's time on a leisure site goes over 10 minutes in one sitting or 90 minutes throughout the day, the site will be blocked.

“With a greater amount of interaction with the system, the more likely they will be using the Internet resources for work-related purposes,” Phillip Glassman, one of the ASU researchers, told the WSJ. " “It makes [employees] feel they’re more part of the conversation, rather than just an edict being passed down.”

Work fewer hours

It seems backwards, but working fewer hours may actually help you get more done.

Research suggests that productivity sharply drops when working over 50 hours a week, reports CNBC. For those who work extreme hours, productivity drops so sharply that you won't get any more work done in 70 hours than you would in 55.

Instead, MONEY suggests keeping your workweek to a tight 40 hours. You can use the rest of your time to relax, recharge and appreciate life outside of work. You have to realize that staying at work late is not going to help in the long run.

“While everyone would like a magic bullet, there really isn’t one,” RegainYourTime.com founder and productivity expert Maura Thomas told MONEY. “Accepting the reality of the situation can go a long way toward relieving your stress. … The best thing you can do for your work is not work.”

Better office furniture?

It sounds strange, but it's the impetus behind office furniture company Steelcase's marketing strategy. It claims that better office furniture can make workers more productive.

Steelcase conducted a study in 14 different countries including the U.S., that found that 86 percent of workers are unable to concentrate at work because of their work environment.

Steelcase is trying to revolutionize the work environment by creating ideal spaces to maximize productivity and minimize distractions. This goes from better ergonomics in office chairs to improve posture and decrease stress to having a variety of different work spaces for different tasks.

In a video interview with the Wall Street Journal, Steelcase said that employees should not have only one possible work space, but should be able to move around the office throughout the day.

Steelcase designer Mark McKenna told the WSJ that his team hopes to create “a kind of micro-environment that helps people get into flow. We wanted a product that allowed people to escape and focus,” he said.

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