Because of this, scientists are becoming increasingly interested in the science of distraction, and the effect that it’s having on workplace productivity. It turns out that distractions aren’t just annoying, they’re harmful because of the way they interact with the human mind. For eons, people worked relatively distraction-free: they just concentrated on what they were doing, whether it was plowing fields, tinkering with chemicals, or tending to their animals. The human mind developed in an environment in which it only had to focus on one thing.
Our brains are fine-tuned for single-task focus. We are made to dedicate our attention to what’s in front of us and nothing else. People in a deep state of concentration experience a whole-brain state that some commentators call “flow.” Flow is a state of deep rhythm with the task in hand, where the external world is blocked out, and all the mental resources of the brain are plowed into a single activity. Flow is how we do our best work. People in a state of flow are usually unaware of the passage of time or noises in their environment.
But in today’s world, technologies that facilitate connection have also provided a constant source of distraction. Every distraction jolts people out of the flow state, leading to errors and losses in productivity – bad news for businesses.
Flow is at the crux of the issue of maximum personal productivity. While in the flow state, the brain is capable of fantastic feats, whether that’s writing an impeccable article, coming up with a new product design, or managing a complex operation. But flow can easily be lost, especially in the distracting and fast-paced world of business.
So what can you do to stay focused on a single task and ensure maximum productivity in your workplace?
Eliminate Annoying Ringing, Buzzing, and Pinging
Technologists have introduced a host of new sounds into our environment, all designed to remind us to use their platforms continually. Emails, social media, and messaging services all rely on audible tones to suck us away from what we’re doing and engage with them. Although this might be great business for them, it’s probably not for you and your staff.
Call answering services allow you to eliminate the constant ringing some businesses must endure. Calls from customers and clients get forwarded to a third-party operator trained to provide call answering services appropriate for your business. Appointments can then be made automatically on your calendar, without the need for anyone in your organization to interrupt what they’re doing.
There’s a mountain of scientific research which indicates that distractions detract from the primary task in hand. A study by Michigan State University, for instance, found that people interrupted by distraction for under three seconds made twice the number of errors in their work. This increased to 4.4 fold the rate of errors when disturbances lasted longer.
It is for this reason that many businesses embrace minimalism – the art of removing all that is superfluous in an attempt to help people focus only on that which is essential.
What does minimalism look like in practice? Empty desks, clean, distraction-free walls, and policy regarding mobile-phone use during office hours.
Web browsers that allow multiple tabs allow people to flick from one site to another quickly and easily. But what was supposed to be a productivity hack has backfired. Many workers sit at their desks with dozens of irrelevant tabs open, increasing the time it takes to find relevant material and increasing the chances of being distracted.
Some companies are trialing “single tab” policies where workers are encouraged to keep open one (or maybe two) tabs at once – certainly not dozens. Other companies are dedicating certain days of the week as “tabless” in the hope of bolstering productivity and reducing errors.
Use To-Do Lists
To-do lists might sound a bit old-fashioned, but they help to stop directionless activity, parceling up the day into discrete, easy-to-identify chunks. Having a to-do list ensures that you’re never at a loose end – well, that is until you’ve been through the list itself.
Will you implement any of these strategies in your office to boost productivity?