Sharon is a good-natured, fair, and even generous supervisor, far from a sadistic taskmaster. Jacob – one of many employees she supervises – has moments of “alpha brain” brilliance, which is why he was hired in the first place.
But Sharon is considering letting Jacob go because in aggregate, his output is not up to standard, based on the time he spends on projects. To summarize, Jacob is often a great worker with some brilliant insights and ideas, but his distraction addiction is forcing his supervisor to seriously consider giving him the ax.
Although the above is a fictional scenario, it's an all-too-true situation that all-too-many employees and employers are finding themselves in. As the world intertwines and shrinks, we all see how subcontractors of subcontractors can do projects cheaper than ever – and let’s not even mention the exponential growth of artificial intelligence.
The day is here when unless you can, in layman’s terms, “get stuff done fast,” you risk becoming redundant…even if you’re mostly a great employee.
The number one problem we have today is focus. Talk to older people, and they’ll tell you stories of workplaces “back in the day” when the biggest distractions were water cooler talk and perhaps a too-long cigarette break.
There are, of course, other things that hinder productivity, but of the five we are discussing today the most serious and without a challenger that even comes close are digital distractions. A recent trend has been helpful and walking back our wandering minds. Many blogs and websites are now touting the effectiveness of so-called “productivity apps” that put the blinders on for you by removing temptations during work hours.
The idea is simple: download a “blocking app,” set your preferences for when you don’t want to be disturbed and then – poof; it’s done. Almost magically, the block app syncs across your devices and allows you to prioritize what will make you most efficient during certain times.
Blocked websites at work is a somewhat controversial idea. Facebook, Instagram, eBay, Reddit, YouTube, and “you-name-it” are awesome tools for work and play…but they can also be awesomely time-wasting. Many organizations are now faced with a choice: restrict the interoffice internet to certain websites or continue to allow free web access to employees
The research comes down on the side of restriction; companies that bar access to certain websites – and social media specifically – have higher rates of productivity. However, it isn't popular to be told what you can and cannot view.
Worker morale is a huge consideration for any organization. This is why many workers are preemptively downloading blocking apps that allow one to schedule certain times of the day where distracting websites, pop-ups, and other non-essential or non-work-related digital information is restricted.
These apps feature timers you can set for “speed working” before you give yourself a break; a common productivity trick that is provenly effective. The apps also have scheduling features that help you plot your day and remind you of upcoming events and more.
The important thing to remember with a blocking app is that you set your parameters. Like some sort of Buddhist mantra, by restricting yourself you free yourself. Getting work done means you’ll have additional time where you can surf the internet, guilt-free.
The second greatest productivity killer is task-switching. We all know how ineffective so-called “multitasking” is, so resisting the urge to swap tasks – even if you feel bored – is imperative. Again, scheduling a certain chunk of time by using a blocking app will allow you to avoid task-switching.
You won’t be tempted to switch tasks because you’ve set up – via a blocking app – a scheduling function and what’s more: you can’t get sidetracked because you’ve set-up roadblocks!
Our third productivity killer is general noise and nonsense. Some offices and some coworkers are loud. (it's hard to imagine, but some offices allow people to bring their dog to work!) For those sensitive to noise, these audible intrusions can be hard to overcome.
A good pair of noise-canceling headphones that can be used to play lo-fi music – or simply block out sound – is a good investment and some of the better models are very affordable and incredibly effective at blocking sound.
Fourth on the list: the lack of recognition many employees feel. This problem, however, is a two-way street. As mentioned in the opening anecdote, if a supervisor feels the employee is somewhat, but not-quite productive enough, they could be loath to praise them for fear the employee will think they can slack off more.
Concurrently, the employee – not receiving recognition or praise, feels their work is invalidated. By having a metric for productivity it's easier for both employees and management to gauge productivity and by extension, note how valuable the employee is.
Finally, we arrive at number five; something called ‘disengagement.’ Some feels this as a sense of boredom or a desire to zone out because they may not be interested in or excited about what they do.
If the root cause is a person is a poor fit for a job then perhaps nothing can be done to alleviate the situation except the individual finding a new job, but by better scheduling a workday and accomplishing more tasks to the finish line – perhaps again with the help of a digital blocking app – many employees will feel more job satisfaction, leading to lower rates of disengagement.