5 Distractions That Destroy Productivity


Productivity literally means producing something. Anyone who is in a leadership position on a project has to shepherd the production of that work. That, of course, is often slowed down by speed bumps. Part of your job is to smooth out those humps.

So, what are the red flags you should be looking out for to keep your team engaged? There are many. Let’s discuss some of the interruptions that can slow down work.

We’re all familiar with the ubiquitous influence of the smartphone. Lisa Evans recently wrote in Fast Company that a 2014 study by Ricoh America Corp. found that over three-quarters of employees are distracted by their mobile phonesa whopping 67 percent send personal texts and 61 percent take at least one personal call per week.

Even not using but just having your phone with you at work can be problematic. The American Psychological Association, in another recent study, noted that though “notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance.”

The smartphone is currently blamed for lack of office productivity, and it deserves the reputation, but there are other interruptions that may not be as obvious, but still take away from your teams’ concentration on their tasks. The following are some you should be aware of.

Noise: Silence is golden

Open-plan offices were championed as a way to literally break down barriers and open up a more creative environment. According to Emerald Insight, over 70 percent of offices now use an open floorplan. But without a door to close out the external noise, it can be hard to concentrate on all those great creative ideas your team brainstormed.

Researchers Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear at the University of Sydney discovered that noise privacy is the number one complaint among cubicle workers and open-plan employees, with 60 percent and 50 percent, respectively, describing it as a major issue. While there may not be anything you can do to change the landscape of your office, knowledge of how this influences your team can help you figure out ways to address it, whether that’s buying ear plugs or instituting “quiet” times.

Internet: Cyber-disruption

This is related to the phone issue noted above, but even more of a road block in that who isn’t accessing the web regularly throughout their day, these days? Being online is a blessing and a curse. There is researchable answers for many problems your team may encounter in fulfilling their tasks, but just logging onto a site can lead to another site and another, and before you know it an hour of wasted time has passed.

In a Salary.com survey, 24 percent of the 750 U.S. office workers polled said Google was the biggest time waster. It’s best to do what you can to equitably regulate Internet access, whether that’s by having workers set up their emails to notify them only on the half-hour or hour or provide breaks for social media. You don’t want to block access and treat your team like children, but it’s your job to manage their usage so that it doesn’t send productivity into a black hole from which your product is forever lost.

Healthy Habits: You body is a temple of productivity

It may feel like an invasion of your team’s personal space, but noting what and how they eat and exercise speaks volumes on how productive they are on the job. Being hungry or tired from overeating at lunch is going to pull your worker from their job.

According to a study from Brigham Young University’s Health Enhancement Research Organization and the Center for Health Research at Healthways, employees who ate healthy all day were 25 percent more likely to be more productive in their jobs. Even eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables four times a week made workers 20 percent more likely to be productive. The study added that exercising for 30 minutes, three times a week, gave employees a 15 percent boost in productivity. And absenteeism was reduced by 27 percent compared to those who exhibited healthy eating and exercise habits.

If your organization doesn’t actively promote healthy lifestyles, try to do so with your team. Promote healthy potluck parties or provide healthy snacks instead of sleep-inducing carbs, if you can. Use team-building to promote healthy activities and go the extra mile to lobby your organization to put more healthy lifestyle, exercise and work-life balance initiatives in place.

Self-Interruptions: We’re our own worst enemies 

Gloria Marks, Professor of interactive and collaborative technologies at the University of California, Irvine, defines self-interruptions as a “function of prospective memory events.” In other words, a team member remembers something they need to do while in the midst of another task and stops that work to start the other.

You can see how this could make for a lack of overall productivity.

While in moderation, self-interruptions can actually help productivity by offering employees a much needed mental break, but only when workers are cognizant of what they’re doing. If they’re doing this unconsciously or out of boredom and frustration, the benefits are lost.

One thing you can suggest employees plan better by promoting multiple types of productivity tools to support different ways of remembering tasks. Trello boards are a visual, KanBan style list that can help organize time. For example, if they get tired at a task, they’ll have already scheduled some busy work to provide a change that doesn’t require such mental focus.

For some, music or a white-noise device can also help you focus through these self-interruptions.

Coworkers: people who don’t always need people 

There is good dialog and there is bad dialog. While you want to encourage your team to work together, exchange ideas and brainstorm solutions, and you need some time for them to blow off steam, it’s important that a balance is found. If there is too much chatter, than productivity is going to suffer.

If you notice that one team member is constantly interrupting others, you should naturally speak to them about this, but don’t neglect communicating with the team as a whole and brainstorming defensive strategies they can use to prevent being distracted by others. Getting group buy-in and developing house rules as a team can go a long way to supporting the team’s overall productivity.

During meetings, you can also set ground rules to minimize interruptions by managing the times in which feedback is solicited and limiting talking time to avoid filibustering.

As you can see, controlling the environment is part of being more productive. Productivity is really just another way to work smarter, not harder. For more tips about efficiency and productivity check out Jennifer Bridges, PMP, in the following embedded video.

These are just a handful of the more common distractions that can derail your team’s productivity. One thing that will help you gain productivity, of course, is using the right tools. ProjectManager.com offers an online suite of collaborative features made for planning, monitoring and reporting in real-time. Try it free with this 30-day trial.


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