Running Your Business

Workplace Distractions: 4 Ways to Keep Constant Notifications From Derailing Productivity

  • Setting a notification-free time every day can minimize workplace distractions

  • Use noise-canceling headphones and silence apps to help you stay focused

  • Relocate to a different part of the office, or even outside, if you can't focus at your desk

Posted by May 14, 2019

The whole point of technology is to make our lives easier, right? But workplace communication technologies, while extremely useful, come along with constant notifications which can make it tough for employees to concentrate on the work at hand.

Workplace distractions can come in the form of essential tools, such as phone calls, web meetings, instant messaging, email notifications, group texts and beyond, which help teams collaborate across time zones and offices. When we end up getting less done because we’re too absorbed in all the shiny technology, cue up the “too much of a good thing” mantra.

Here are four ways to make these tools work for you—without being distracted.

1. Encourage Notification-Free Time

One way employees can avoid being distracted by technology is to be intentional, rather than reactive, with their focus. This means narrowing in on what’s monopolizing attention, then actively refocusing on what’s more pressing. For example, when it’s time to focus on a project, set your phone on silent and snooze app notifications—or, better yet, throw it in a desk drawer. Don’t let the constant email, instant messaging and text notifications derail your concentration.

Everyone stands to benefit from at least a few hours of notification-free time every day, but make sure these blocks are on your workplace calendar. Employees must be intentional about going notification silent, otherwise, they’ll be fielding distractions anyway.

If you’re a manager, consider designating a block of time where only your assistant can reach you. Because light task switching—even for notifications—can end up causing a 40% loss in productivity.

2. Use Technology to Tune It Out

Not all technology is distracting. In fact, some can help you stay focused. Consider investing in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones, especially if you’re in an open-office environment. Or put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your desk, with a time noted for when you’ll be available again. Additionally, apps like StayFocusd + Freedom can help block websites and apps that might distract you—aka social media.

3. Take Drastic Steps, If Necessary

Sometimes, simply silencing your phone and apps isn’t enough. In those cases, especially if people aren’t respecting your boundaries, you may need to relocate. Consider moving to a conference room where people can’t find you during your notification-free time. Maybe visit a coffee shop or work outside, if weather allows. Of course, you’ll need to get permission from your manager. But if you can show that you’re accomplishing more during off-site times, you’ll have a convincing argument.

Another semi-drastic step might involve simply not checking your email in the morning. It’s well-known that we are at our most productive at the start of the day, so consider spending that time planning tasks or engaging in mindfulness meditation instead. Leaving emails for times when you’re less energized may help you be more productive overall.

4. Overcome Internal Distractions

Harvard Business Review suggests that over time, people condition themselves to expect distractions. As a result, they may develop a fear of missing out or forgetting tasks, which can cause workers to get in the habit of doing small tasks the moment they think of them—even if they’re working on another, bigger project.

If this has happened to you, breathe easy: You can retrain your brain by making yourself focus on only one task at a time during notification-free blocks. If you think of a task that needs to be done, write it down so you can circle back to it and keep on working. If you have trouble concentrating in general, try the Pomodoro technique, where you work in small increments of time on a single project, taking short technology-free breaks to walk around, get coffee or stretch.

Some of these hacks, like strict notification-free blocks of time, may not work for every office. But the ideas can be tweaked to work for you. For instance, can’t completely silence your phone? Consider temporarily muting communication from personal contacts during crunchtime. Can’t go completely notification-free? Consider checking emails during your commute and then starring them if they warrant a response once you’re on the clock.

Because constant notifications can become difficult workplace distractions and productivity killers, it’s important to be proactive and control your focus so you can get the most out of this technology.

Searching for more tools and resources to help your colleagues keep sharp, such as wellness and mental health days? Check out the Employer Toolkit.

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