Workplace distraction is one of the biggest issues facing productivity today. Up to 70% of workers admit to feeling distracted during the day, a feeling likely to cost businesses serious money as time goes on.
As the coronavirus outbreak causes offices to pack up and workers to head home, new distraction problems may arise. Each office and home brings with it a unique set of potential distractors, but sticking to a few simple techniques can help you keep your focus and maximize your well-being during the workday.
Whether you’re in the office or working from home, maintaining engagement is crucial. Here are a few ways you can do so:
“Multitasking” is actually a misnomer — those who try to perform several different actions often fail at successfully doing any of them. Stanford University researcher Clifford Nass found that workers who regularly multitask are severely impaired when it comes to distinguishing important information from irrelevant information. As tempting as it can be to take on several tasks at once, keeping things separate almost always produces the best results.
Those working at home might be particularly tempted to multitask, as doing housework or taking care of family members during work hours becomes an option. Instead of trying to do everything at once, make a detailed schedule of your workday, and set out chunks of time for performing each task. Taking things on one by one allows you to devote your full attention to what’s at hand, ensuring you’re doing your best work on your current task.
Use audio note-taking
Keeping track of important calls and meetings is crucial, but using notes to do so can seriously inhibit your ability to focus. Trying to write and listen at the same time can be draining, and things are bound to get lost in the shuffle. One of the best ways around this is through audio note-taking.
Jonathan Keyser, founder of commercial real estate brokerage Keyser, uses audio note-taking to stay committed to one of his core principles of being 100% present. Recording meetings allows Keyser employees to be fully present in the moment and still be able to review the details of the meeting later. Unlike traditional note-taking, audio recordings allow you keep track of relevant points without having to split your focus in the moment.
Start your morning right
Far too many people neglect the importance of the first hours of the day when it comes to focus and productivity. Dan Airley, bestselling author and behavioral economist, found that people are up to 30% more productive in the 2.5-hour window after they wake up. Spending too much time in the morning on your phone, checking emails, or otherwise wasting time will hurt your ability to stay engaged later in the day.
There’s no secret formula to the right morning, but it’s important to be intentional with your early hours, regardless. While some workers will want to start their day as soon as possible, others might find it more valuable to do some exercise and eat a full breakfast before starting work-related tasks. Whatever you choose, make sure every moment of your morning is part of your larger day-long plan for staying engaged.
Take mindfulness breaks
Taking breaks is crucial for maintaining focus, but breaks have to be done right to have the desired effect. First, you have to schedule breaks at appropriate times and intervals. While systems like the Pomodoro technique have long been popular for maintaining engagement, new research has begun to push back. An analysis from DeskTime found that the most productive workers take a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes of work. This might not work for everyone, so make sure to try different intervals to find which has the biggest impact on your ability to be present.
What you do during breaks is also important. Practicing mindfulness during your time away from the desk — whether that’s through meditation, exercise, or listening to music — can help you stay alert and engaged later. Make sure not to let work bleed into your breaks; keeping the two separate is crucial for making breaks effective.
Separate home and office
Your work life and your home life need to be separated, too. Newly minted remote workers might find this particularly difficult, as ersatz home offices may make it impossible to keep the domestic from mixing with the professional. Ariane Wepfer of the University of Zurich found that workers who integrated work into their personal lives reported feelings of exhaustion, having lost the ability to fully recover from their time on the job.
The best ways to keep the two separate — especially when working from home — is through strict scheduling and delegation. The same way you might set aside time to prevent multitasking, make clear time blocks for working and clear time blocks for your personal life. If any issues related to one or the other come up during an opposing time block, delegate them to someone else. If you let the two mix, you prevent yourself from being fully present at either.
Optimize your workspace
Office design has an outsized influence on how your levels of engagement fluctuate throughout the day. If you’re the kind of worker who regularly communicates and collaborates with others, isolated cubicles can seriously hinder your mindset. Workers who need space should also take notice — from 2010 to 2012, the average square footage per worker in an office shrunk from 225 to 176.
Seriously consider what you need your workspace to look like. Factors like space, noise, and ease of communication are all crucial, but you might have other personal considerations to factor in. If you’re working from home, choose a room that suits your demeanor and needs if you’re hoping to maintain the levels of engagement you’d have in the office.
Being present at work means increases in both satisfaction and productivity. While it can be easy to coast through most days, taking the time to focus in on your engagement levels can pay dividends — both figuratively and literally.