With more offices open, it’s important to help employees focus again.
But it’s tough because they still feel overwhelmed, stressed, distracted and even unappreciated.
A major culprit: All the increased “noise” in their work and lives: Beeps, buzzes and alerts have become the norm in and out of work. They get an avalanche of email, hear loud chatter, read muddled messages and often attend unnecessary in-person and Zoom meetings.
“We think, ‘This is just the reality of work in the Digital Age,’” says Joseph McCormack, author of NOISE: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus. “We’ve forgotten how it feels not to be perpetually distracted and overwhelmed.”
HR leaders and front-line managers want to help them reduce the distractions – onslaughts of information and distractions – that break their focus and drain their brains.
“We can’t change the reality of our workplaces, but we can take small doable steps that together help us better manage the work flow of priorities and challenges,” McCormack says.
To help employees focus again, he suggests these tactics:
Make the problem clear
Talk with employees about how distractions – and reacting to them – hurts their attention spans, memory, brain functions and performance.
Just a few stats that can drill in the point. Professionals:
- are interrupted 50 times a day – and it takes many minutes to regain full focus after each
- check their phones 150 times daily
- check email (unnecessarily) 36 times a day, and
- multi-task during meetings, leading to unproductive time.
Focus on what you can control
Leaders and employees have limited control on some of work time – meetings and certain responsibilities demand exact times.
Encourage employees to determine their most productive time outside of the locked-in time and plan to block out distractions and work on high-priority tasks.
Follow the ‘7-to-7 Rule’
In his research, McCormack found 40% of people who didn’t check their smartphones first and last thing each day had four or more hours of quiet, productive time each day.
Employees will gain time and get more done when they reject the “always connected” mentality.
To take advantage of this tactic, employees will want to try the 7-to-7 Rule: No screen before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m.
Try the ’11-minute Unplug’
Employees and managers will want to try to step away from screens and phones to think about what they plan to accomplish before critical conversations, presentations or meetings.
They might take a walk or sit in silence to focus on the goal, and they’ll likely achieve it sooner.
Take the ‘Post-It Challenge’
The distractions often cause people to become overwhelmed and try to multi-task all day.
Instead, experts suggest you single-task on the highest priority. Write each task to accomplish on a Post-It note and throw it away when you’re done.
They can check the trash can midday and at day’s end to see all they’ve accomplished with single focus.
Shore up communication
Encourage employees to simplify their messages – and seek simple messages – they can communicate more effectively.
Before they write or speak to convey information, tell them to ask themselves, “What’s the single most important thing I want to convey?” Then they can draft the email, voicemail or call around that.
On the flip side, if they receive an overwhelming message, they can ask the sender, “What’s the single most important thing I need to know?”