Whether you work in an office, at home or on the road, it’s often difficult to get what needs doing done. That’s because we are all bombarded by interruptions and distractions – self-imposed and from without – no matter where we try to work. Interruptions and distractions chip away at our focus and it’s focus that best facilitates productivity – accomplishment – success.
Wonderful Rhetoric, But Get To The Tips
Most of the productivity saboteurs you endure each day can be reduced or eliminated. It’s just a matter of taking charge of your working environment and making the changes required to increase your “quiet.” Here’s a list of five that will get you started.
1. Point Away from the Door.
Most people set up their offices (or even temporary workspaces on the road) facing “out” into the fray of activity passing by them. Specifically, most office chairs are positioned such that they face the doorway. The same is true for mobile workers – they point themselves outward into the crowd at the airport or hotel lobby.
The human eye is disposed to catching motion. Thus, whenever someone (or something) passes by, we look up. That causes a slight hiccup in our focus and diverts our attention away from what we were thinking about. It may only be a second or two of distraction, but added up over the course of the day, minutes of productivity are lost. And minutes lost each day add up to hours of lost productivity each year. (This analysis doesn’t even consider the lost productivity that results when you catch someone’s eye as they pass by and they come into your workspace and start talking to you!)
The solution is to arrange your office so that you don’t directly face the door. Start by turning your desk 90 degrees – from the standard arrangement – and push it up against the wall. Now, one of your shoulders will face the door. (For best results, put the desk against the “far” wall such that the door is slightly off and behind the closest shoulder.) The result is you will no longer be interrupted by passersby and you will remain focused on the work at hand. Moreover, others will see you’re working and tend to respect that effort, reducing the number of drive-by interruptions you suffer.
2. Create a Designated Workspace
With the desk properly oriented, let’s address the most important part of it – the part right in front of you – the desktop. Most people crowd their desktops with papers, personal effects, computer monitors, etc. The result is a cramped, interruption-littered workspace, all of which is self-imposed!
The most effective workspace is the quietest. Getting there in the physical world means clearing the roaring clutter that infringes on your focus while working. Creating a space in your office – preferably on your desktop – where only work is done is a terrific way to achieve the type of quiet you need to be highly productive.
To experience what I’m talking about, move everything off your entire desktop – the whole desktop. Put it behind you or on the floor in front of the desk. Now, sit back and look at it. Is it screaming at your psyche? Do you feel pulled in different directions? No, there’s nothing interfering with your attention – the attention you are currently training on your desktop.
Once you’re convinced this is a better way to maintain your desk, find a place to put all those things that used to reside there. My guess is many of them will leave your office or find a home on the periphery, where they belonged all along!
3. Turn Off the Beeps, Buzzes, Pings, and Rings.
Modern technology has literally made the world smaller and closer. We can communicate with anyone, anywhere, in real-time right from the palm of our hands. Of course, with this ability has come attendant expectations. Many people now believe that because we can reach each other 24×7, that we should or should be able to do so. The result is cell phones ringing in movie theaters, e-mails pinging during meetings, and BlackBerrys vibrating across dinner tables. A cacophony of discordant sound populate our days.
The primary way to improve this situation is by taking command of your technological tools. Stated succinctly – TURN OFF THE BEEPS, BUZZES, PINGS, AND RINGS – at least periodically. We need to be alerted to people communicating with us, just not every minute of every day. The interruptions and distractions they cause is annihilating our productivity.
By taking command of when the alerts sound, you take command of how quiet your workspace is. Turn them off when you need to focus on a particular project. Turn them back on when you’re finished. It’s literally that easy.
4. Do One Thing at a Time.
Now that we’re facing the right way, cleared a place to work on, and turned off our electronic alerts, we’re ready to get to work. That’s where this next, and maybe most important, tip comes into play.
Whether you ascribe to results from scientific study or general common sense, the idea that we multi-task well has pretty well been debunked in the last 12 months. The only thing “multi-tasking” seems to accomplish is increased stress, because attempts to work that way clearly reduce productivity. The solution is to single-task – do just one thing at a time.
Prepping your environment greatly enhances the ability to focus on one thing at a time. The best way to leverage the “quieted” workspace is to grab a single file or project and place it in your designated work area. (If you’re working on the computer, this is accomplished by using full-sized screens.) Then work on it until you come to a natural stopping point. You’ll find that working this way greatly reduces the amount of time it takes to accomplish tasks. Not only will you get things done more quickly, you’ll feel doubly good about doing so!
5. Police Your Area When Finished.
We’ve all seen the workspace that was recently visited by a hurricane. Invariably, the resident claims to know where everything is and he/she probably does … within a few feet or so. Think of the lost productivity just searching!
But that’s not the only place where clutter reduces productivity. Anytime left over materials from tasks previously completed linger in your workplace, future productivity risks being adversely affected. The big piles and stacks are merely extreme examples of this loss. Remember, time is irrevocably lost every second it takes to dig around for something that’s “right here.” Searching for papers or e-mails or whatever is never time well-spent.
One of the easiest ways to permanently eliminate this inefficiency is to organize and remove task/project materials for your workspace when the task/project is done. Yes, it’s administrative (versus productive), but it results in multiples of increased productivity downstream. Moreover, you’ve spent some time and energy getting your workspace as productive as possible through implementing these points. Why let avoiding a little administrative effort minimize the value of that effort?
Simple Steps, Big Gains
The best way to improve your productivity is by making small changes that require little effort. To that end, give one of the above suggestions a try. If it works for you, great! If not, but you like the idea behind it, try adapting it to the way you like to work. And if you can’t adopt or adapt that suggestion, throw it out and try one of the other ones. Every step you take in reducing the interruptions and distractions that bombard you each day is a step towards increasing your productivity and sense of command and control over your workload.