Constant Distraction

We all have those days when we really feel unmotivated.  One reason for the rise in a lack of motivation comes from the stress of over-stimulation.  Although technology transformed our lives for the good in some facets, it has blurred work-life lines and increased expectations in the workplace.  In the workplace, while keep us more connected, it upset the balance of productive and non-productive time.  Most of us have a rhythm that we complete work best when practicing.  Interruptions result in little disconnects in our productive flow and require time before we return to our ideal state.  Think about those times it is hard to go back to sleep in the middle of the night once you wake up.  Interruptions might be more serious than you think.  A 2008 study by Basex estimated that the cost of interruptions in the workplace totaled approximately $650 billion.  A similar 2006 Basex study found that the average knowledge worker loses 28 percent or more than 2 hours dealing with interruptions during the day.  Although the productivity loss possesses a considerable cost, the psychological cost may be greater.  The impact of interruption or distraction varies by person, but in many, it creates impatience, irritability and anxiety.  The proliferation of electronic devices (I looked at my phone before completing this sentence) has compounded this effect by placing many people in a constant state of distraction.

Dr. Edward Hallowell in the Harvard Business Review named the common condition: attention deficit trait or ADT.  We reach the state of ADT when the amount of incoming messages and competing tasks become so great we fail to set priorities.  We become distracted, agitated, and impulsive, yet feel sense of inadequacy.  By blaming ourselves, we work harder and longer while heightening the stress and anxiety.

Beside someone interacting with me, what is another common interruption? The arrival of email in my inbox on a regular basis tends to command my attention no matter what else I might be engaged in at that moment.  The Guardian newspaper estimated that the US loses $70 billion a year in productivity due to email interrupting typical work processes.

What are some simple things you can do to counteract this trend and increase productivity?

  • Communicate with your staff about the impact of interruptions;
  • Ensure that work spaces minimize interruptions;
  • Set reasonable expectations for after hours communication and responsiveness;
  • Establish a method for prioritizing email communication that allows employees to disconnect when needed, but be accessible if needed;
  • Allow disconnected time for training, planning, and creative thinking; and
  • Assist employees suffering from overload by providing short breaks of a day off.
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