There are diversions to help us get through our day and work more productively, and there are distractions that keep us from doing our work altogether. They range from never-ending stories from two colleagues standing at your desk talking to each other (and not you), a barrage of emails, the dog wanting to go out or, in my case, the cat wanting to come in. The modern workplace can often make it difficult to actually get any work done! We all have to deal with interruptions and distractions at the office, but the good news is that a few simple time-management techniques can help you reduce or eliminate interruptions and keep you productive during the day.
MOM – DON’T CALL ME AT THE OFFICE
If it’s possible, simply ignore the distraction altogether until you’re ready to deal with it. Many of us are “programmed” to be immediately responsive and this is where we wind up losing ground to the things around us.
Telephone calls, no matter who is calling, are probably the biggest problems faced by office staff and telecommuters alike. When it’s your boss or co-worker calling, you need to determine why they are calling and, if they call too much, determine how to cut down on the calls. Tactfully explain that the phone calls are disrupting your work routine and ask if the issues (if there are any) can be dealt with on a once weekly basis.
Folks working outside the office run into different phone-related issues. A standard defense against unwanted calls (after telling your employer first): use an answering machine to screen calls and contact your local phone provider and learn how to get your phone number removed from phone lists. This approach works best against telemarketers, but when the call is your sister wanting to schedule a visit or your buddy Jerry trying to convince you take the weekend fishing trip, screening your calls comes across as cold.
Friends and family are sometimes the hardest groups of people to convince and deal with. You have to let them know that during certain hours of the day you are not available, but happy to talk with them when you are not working. If the message does not seem to get through, then call screening is the solution.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Yes – there are days when you simply cannot be interrupted, the best thing to do may be to pick up your work and move to a quieter location. If you have a notebook computer, just plug it in at a less-trafficked part of your office like an empty conference room, or work at home if there are fewer distractions there. With the advent of more Wi-Fi availability in public areas, locations are as wide and varied as you can imagine. I would, however, hesitate to advocate camping out at the corner café if you want to avoid distractions, but the local library may work out – just remember that you can’t yell at your monitor! Remember, the availability of Wi-Fi connectivity in many places does not automatically turn them into acceptable work locations.
MANAGE INTERRUPTIONS EFFECTIVELY
If an interruption cannot be ignored and must be dealt with, reduce the negative impact by making a quick note of what you were doing before the interruption occurred so that when you return, you can get right back to work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of something and suddenly I got called into an impromptu meeting. These things happen and that’s all there is to it, but take a minute to finish the sentence you were working on, maybe even jot down a little reminder of what you intended to write next. There’s nothing more frustrating than having the perfect thought vanish because of distractions.
I’M JUST CHECKING THE WEATHER
The subject’s been talked about for a long time so I just want to mention it – the Internet is a big distraction. It used to be we could check a couple of sites to get the news headlines and the weather, but now some people are trading stocks, buying & selling stuff, even trying to find their soul mates; all while at work.
C’mon people, let’s show some restraint.
AM I THE PROBLEM?
Music, whether web-based or the portable on your desk, can be a great background environment, but the sound level that you are comfortable with, as well as your taste in music, may not be the same for the person next to you. Case in point: a few years ago, I had to spend a day rebuilding a PC in an office where two cubicles over some guy had his MP3 player spouting “death metal” tunes all day. You can imagine that listening to something akin to an unearthly beast caught in a bear trap from 9-5 was very distracting. I still don’t know if I ever really fixed the machine I was working on, all I wanted to do was get out of there!
When I get an email, Worf from Star Trek announces it with: “Captain, incoming message”. This is fun, and since I don’t get hundreds of emails in a day it’s not too bad a thing, but there are times when the email notification has to be turned off. Klingons and sensitivity training meetings don’t mix well.
Distractions are present with any job, no matter where your job may be located. The important point is preventing distractions before they become a problem and make it difficult for you to succeed at your job.
Have a special ways to avoid distractions? Pass them along to me at email@example.com.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to remove the cat from the screen door.
(Disclaimer: The links in the article are for informational reference only and not
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Ed Giles is a Specialist with the XONITEK Consulting Services Team. Ed brings years of experience in Manufacturing, Shipping/Receiving, Material Handling/Inventory Control, Warehouse Distribution, and many other strategic technologies to the XONITEK team.