If your job resembles the movie Office Space, then you may be one of millions who work in an office environment, with or without the red stapler. And if you work in an office, you know how quickly a schedule can be derailed. Email, meetings, phone calls, co-workers and even your own actions can hinder your productivity if not managed correctly.
If the workday ends with you feeling even more behind than you did that morning, it might be time to do some honest assessment of the distractions that knock your schedule off track. Increasing your efficiency not only makes your boss and department look good, it can also help you on a personal level. Accomplishing tasks on time will reduce your stress and help you finish the day on a positive note.
Below are some common office distractions and some tips to reduce their negative impact on your schedule:
Distraction #1: Email – Emails are a vital communication tool for many workers; don’t let them suck precious time from your schedule. Compose the email in a thorough but concise manner, with the subject line clearly stating the topic of the message. Use your email wisely—ask the right questions or provide all the necessary information the first time. If you are thorough and to the point with the first email, you won’t waste time with back and forth messages. Think twice before forwarding the cute kitten video or the poem about friendships being flowers—why swamp your coworkers’ inboxes with more distractions?
Distraction #2: Meetings – While meetings are meant to efficiently address important issues with multiple people at once, they can drain your time and energy if not conducted for optimum effect. Go into a meeting prepped with a plan of action and notes or questions that are relevant to the topic. Send out an agenda beforehand so that everyone attending can stay on track. If the conversation starts to drift from the agenda to comparing plans for the weekend, you may have to be the person to steer everyone back on course.
Distraction #3: Phone Calls – If you find yourself on the phone for long periods when you should be working on other tasks, maybe it’s time to start screening your calls. If your office doesn’t have a central employee to screen and direct calls, why not let your phone handle the job? You can save numbers from solicitors, sales reps and other unwanted callers into your directory; the next time they call when you’re busy on a project, there’s no need to stop and answer. The employees and clients you work with cannot be ignored but you don’t want to waste time re-hashing the same items again and again. Give them your time and courtesy, but learn how to end the call tactfully when there is nothing new to add. Sometimes it’s helpful to set a limit at the beginning of the call, for instance “I only have a few minutes, but I wanted to touch base…”
Distraction #4: Coworkers – Of course the office is a lot more pleasant when people get along, some of the strongest friendships begin at work. But if the camaraderie and socializing are eating at your productivity you may find yourself working late to compensate. If your coworkers are dropping by your desk to chat too often you may need a signal to let them know when you are busy. Something as simple as closing your office door for a set period each day will indicate that this is your “do not disturb” time when you need to focus without interruptions.
Distraction #5: Yourself – Yes, sometimes we are our own worst problems! If procrastination is your middle name, try a few tricks to keep yourself motivated and on task. A photo of your loved ones (one of the reasons you want to excel at your job), a dream vacation spot (why you want that promotion) may help keep you focused. If your daily to-do list seems overwhelming, break it into sections with both large and small tasks. If you only complete small projects, the large ones will still loom overhead and add to your stress. Finishing a large project along with several small ones will add to your feeling of accomplishment and make your list more manageable. Keep lists—your daily tasks, weekly goals, monthly deadlines, etc. Not only will checklists help you organize and prioritize, you will also enjoy the great feeling of accomplishment when you see all those tasks checked off!
If your workday suffers from distractions and derailed schedules, you may recognize some of the above topics as your own obstacles. Try rating your distractions from worst to least, and put some of these suggestions into action. Reducing your interruptions and increasing your focus will result in improved productivity—a bonus for your company, your clients, and your overall job satisfaction.