Leadership Skills: Top Distractions to Avoid at Work

We are fighting a losing battle against time. Scheduling yourself to accomplish exactly what you need to do is often thrown into disarray, thanks in part to the myriad of distractions at work. Some of those interruptions are your own, some come from your co-workers.

Either way, those distractions happen a lot.

The average employee's interrupted 56 times a day and spends at least 2 hours a day recovering from those distractions. And here’s the worst part: When asked, employees said that 80% of the interruptions are TRIVIAL!  With those numbers in mind, employees are spending less than 60% of their time working!

There are numerous ways we get pulled off task. It’s almost impossible to eliminate every distraction entirely; some distractions are out of our control. However, it’s our job as leaders to set a precedent for our employees on identifying and managing the distractions within our control.

Here are some of the more familiar distractions we face.

 Your Cell Phone Becomes Your Best Friend: There’s no question that cell phones have boosted workplace productivity and communication between employees and clients. But they also come with a drawback: they tempt us to play with them. You find yourself checking text messages, apps and just generally looking at the phone to see if anything’s changed in the last five seconds.

Phones shouldn't handicap us that much. Limit the time you spend on your cell phone or turn it off completely.  It’s OK, the world won’t end. Believe it or not, when you turn it back on, everything will still be there.

You must lead by example. If employees see you checking your phone every five minutes, they will do the same thing.

 The Open Door: This one might seem like a 50/50 distraction. On one end, you want employees or managers to feel comfortable approaching you face-to-face with anything, at any time. However, if the door's wide open, you're drawn to all sorts of distracting noises coming from foot traffic, phones ringing in unison, office chatter and so forth.  Rather than decide on either having an open or closed office, allot time for both.

Remember, the open door policy is a figurative philosophy--that doesn't mean your door has to physically be open 24/7.

Answering Everything at Once: Do you have those days where you feel like all you’ve done is put out fires?  Or you find yourself answering questions like it’s the lightning round of a game show?  At the end of the day, you’re stretched thin and unmotivated because you realize you didn't get your “real” work done.  Multitasking is a critical attribute to have as a leader, but only when it’s done sensibly.  Maybe you don’t have to be the person with all the answers.
Delegate to your team, give them an opportunity to shine and give yourself time to focus on the higher level issues.

Not Designating One Mode of Contact: Just because we have different methods of communication doesn't mean you have to use all of them.  I’m sure you've had an employee email you when you're swamped and you don't answer right away.  So the employee sends you an IM to follow up and you don’t respond to that, either.  Now the employee calls you and leaves a voicemail about the email and IM.  Finally, they stop by your office and ask the question, “Can I take tomorrow off?”

There needs to be a shorter way.

If your time's limited, you need to restrict yourself on how to be contacted by your employees. If you’re in the zone, close your door, change your phone to "Do Not Disturb" and set your IM status to busy. You'll be amazed at how much clearer everything becomes with just those three simple changes.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, these workplace distractions are more or less tied to how well you’re able to plan your day. It’s okay to take the occasional breather once in awhile--just be disciplined enough to return to that task with the same vigor.

What distractions keep you away from tasks more than others? And what routine have you created to counteract those time wasters?

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