Shiny object syndrome: When distractions kill productivity

I work in a hectic environment, which isn’t new for me, and given the state of things today, many people are working at companies attempting to do more with less.  However, the constant ping of the email box, ringing phone, blinking IM window or knock on the door may be killing our productivity.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported the results of a study which showed that many users find themselves being distracted (or self-distract), on average, once every three minutes, and once distracted taking 23 minutes to get back on track.  It’s a devastating figure, if true.

Coincidentally, my boss forwarded me a piece a day or two before the Journal article hit, with a piece one executive had written discussing why leaders should work at home for 90 minutes before going into work.  Why?  Less distractions.  You can get more done in that 90 minutes than you can sometimes the entire day in the office.  It makes a lot of sense, given that in my industry, the strings of logic that sometimes have to be maintained to get some code nailed down is very fragile to hang on to, and a distraction can totally pop the bubble and keep someone from getting something one at all.

Suggestions on how to avoid distractions include blocking email, turning off IM or phone, or setting windows of time where you avoid them for a few hours so you can make some heavy progress.  Not all of these will work for many people, but finding the balance could mean a humongous difference in productivity.

I do find that I have an hour here and there within my day where I get more done than the hour that preceded or follows it.  Without distractions, you just plow through a lot more work unencumbered by outside forces.  I personally try to isolate certain types of interruptions when I can, aiming for blocks of pure productive bliss. It usually works, but as more people turn to you at work, it’s not always easy.

SOURCES: Wall Street JournalLinkedIn

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