Think how often you get distracted when working. Pretty often, right? Your colleague from the other office will send you some funny link on Skype, or walk into your office for ‘just a quick chat’, and then there are those emergency emails and phone calls that demand your immediate attention, making breaks to browse on the Internet or just check what’s new on Facebook. Where you work, or what your job is, isn’t important at all. Such distractions happen all the time and to all of us. There was a study done by Basex in 2007 that showed that the U.S. businesses are losing $588 billion per year because of these time killers that decrease their workers’ productivity. It is expected that this is happening in other organizations around the whole world. And after you’ve been distracted, getting back to work takes additional few minutes for you to concentrate and start working effectively. Just multiply this lost time by how many times you get distracted per day, and you’ll easily understand why we sometimes aren’t doing quality work and the time slips through our fingertips.
It is essential to learn how to manage these wasters of your time so you would increase your effectiveness and productivity, and not stress out because you won’t be able to finish everything on time. When you successfully manage your work environment you can better concentrate on your work, get more things done during the day, and produce better quality work. Here are some of the most common distractions and time wasters we are faced with every day, and what we can do to eliminate their negative effects:
Emails – While emails are very useful finishing some tasks quicker and easier, they can also be one of the biggest distractions when working if you are one of those people that constantly check it and can’t resist reacting to those visual and audible alerts notifying you about a new email or chat message you’ve received.
To minimize the distraction from emails keep the program closed when you aren’t using it, or at least turn off all the notifications, and set specific times of the day when you’ll open it to check and answer new emails. You could, for example, do this about two to three times a day when you are not at the peak of your productivity, in the morning, when you arrive at work, after the lunch, and before you leave, but not more than half an hour each day. If it takes more than few minutes to respond to a certain email, add it to your to-do list. Also, you can set an auto-reply message to let people know when they can reach you via email, and when they need to call you for urgent matters.
Gmail Boomerang is a free time management tool that can help you save on time and better manage your emails. It is a plugin for Chrome and Firefox that enables you to write emails and schedule them for sending at a certain time, or set an email to return in your inbox when you’ll need it again, and use reminders to make sure you follow up after you’ve sent certain message. Boomerang is really a great tool that can significantly increase your productivity when reading and responding to emails.
Instant Messaging (IM) – The instant messages are great but only if used in a disciplined way and for small and quick queries. Otherwise they can be complete time wasters. Don’t use instant messages for things that are more complex or better explained and done via phone call or email. If the IMs start to distract you from your work decide certain time when you’ll be ‘online’ and the rest of your work day leave it off, or set your status to ‘busy’. Let other people know when your ‘hours’ for IM are so they can contact you at the right time.
Phone Calls – If the phone rings it doesn’t mean we need to automatically answer it at the same moment. Sometimes we are doing something important that demands our full concentration and should not be interrupted. It would be better if you completely turn off your phone during the work hours when you are most concentrated and productive, so that the calls won’t distract you at all, and also let your coworkers know that you won’t be answering non-essential calls at certain times of the day. You can also tell them to contact you through IM to check if you are available before they call you, so you can let them know when you will be if the time isn’t quite convenient and you are busy working.
Internet – Browsing the Internet, looking for only one thing and ending up on a completely different subject, losing 20 minutes or more in the meantime, is one of the biggest time killers we face when working. Using social media networks is often needed to stay informed about the latest news and trends in our industry, and sometimes it is even required as part of a certain job. But if we want to stay effective when working, we better minimize these distractions from the Internet.
If you constantly check your email or visit Facebook and Twitter for the latest news, log out, and read the news only in the morning, before you start working. You can also take short Internet brakes to reward yourself after finishing high quality and focused work.
There also are tools and software that can help you eliminate different online distractions. Toggl is one of them. This software counts the time you spend working on a certain project and is widely used by bloggers and freelancers in particularly, to focus on getting the work done and not wasting their time when working on the Internet. StayFocusd is a Chrome application that will help you increase your productivity on the workplace by limiting the time you are allowed to spend on certain websites during the work hours.
Other Projects and Tasks – Having too many things to do in only one work day can sometimes be a major distraction, that can further decrease your productivity if you start procrastinating all these tasks, projects and meetings, just because there’s too much work to finish. Use Google Calendar to organize your day, set reminders to keep track of all the important events, and sync it with your mobile phone to access it when you are not at your desk in the office.
The time killers and distractions we face every day, not only lower our productivity when working, but they also increase our stress. Focus on what distracts you the most and try different strategies to reduce their influence and get your job done.