Isn’t the Internet just amazing? If you take a second to think about it, it’s pretty awesome that we can connect with our grandma on Facebook, watch a video on YouTube of a cat falling off a counter doing a backflip in slow motion, take a Buzztime quiz to see which city you should really be living in (because they know better than you), and become a sparkly leprechaun who spits rainbows on Snapchat… all from sitting at your desk at work. Employers must be cringing while reading this but with so many outlets for entertainment available at our disposal, it can be tough to stay focused and efficient at work. Whether you’re an employer looking to help keep your team on track or an employee who really wants to do well in their role, this blog will give you some ways to stay focused and efficient at work, despite the distractions.
1. The “One Meeting” Rule
Let’s see if this sounds familiar. You’re at your desk and it’s time for your weekly department meeting to begin. You get your computer, your phone, and a notepad and gather into a conference room, half of the team is on time, all sitting at the conference table with their computers open, some staring at their phones. Ten minutes go by and the rest of the team trickles in, all assuming the same position of open laptops and phone gazes. When someone finally starts the meeting nothing changes, except now, one person is talking to the group that is still distracted with their devices. One member of the group speaks up when something catches their attention, “Wait, I thought we were going to push that project until January?” Only to be told, “Yes, this is the other project we’re talking about right now” by the moderator. Then, after everything is discussed and the meeting concludes, everyone goes back to their desks. Your coworker in the same department pings you and says, “Wait, I thought we were going to push that project until January?”
I could go on but surely you can see the inefficiencies and lack of focus in this scenario. What on earth was everyone doing during the meeting? Maybe they were texting their mom, maybe they were sending an email to a client, maybe they spent the entire meeting trying to figure out how those freaking Snapchat things work. Whatever the reason, the result is that they did not absorb the information they needed to from the meeting which can end up slowing down the entire department. That’s not cool. One way to get out of this meeting about meetings habit is to implement the “One Meeting” rule. This rule says that everyone in the meeting needs to be in that meeting, not the one on their phone or on their laptop. So, if it doesn’t have anything to do with the meeting you’re in, text your mom later, email the client after the meeting, and figure out Snapchat in your free time. The idea is that after implementing this rule, you can say something like, “one meeting” at the beginning of a meeting and everyone will know what that means and turn their attention towards the person leading.
2. Take The Internet in Small Doses
Again with the Internet… because it’s awesome. Ever look at the clock and realize that you just got sucked in by the Internet for an hour and a half? Or, maybe even longer? Been there, done that. One trick to stay away from getting sucked in is to clean up your computer. When you decide to focus on a task, close out of everything else except for what you need to complete this task. So, if you need to write a lengthy email or maybe write a blog post, close all of your other tabs/windows that aren’t necessary to complete this task. Don’t worry, you don’t need to remember which tabs were closed, Google now keeps track of your closed tabs so it’s easy to open them again once your task at hand is complete.
Go one step further with this tip and try not to look at your cell phone while you’re focused on the task at hand. If all of this sounds absolutely absurd and near impossible, start slow. Implement the closed windows/tabs and the no cell phone for a task that only takes you 15 minutes, then for a task that takes you 30 minutes, and so on. Practice makes perfect!
3. Stay Clean
Did you know that a cluttered or messy desk can lead to a lack of persistence and productivity? It’s true. In a recent study, a messy desk showed to be a big roadblock in terms of persistence. Basically what the researchers found was that people are more likely to spend less time on a difficult or challenging task if their desk is out of order. The cleaner the desk, the more people challenge themselves and stick with the problem attempting to find a solution.
Organizing a desk doesn’t need to be difficult, and to help, here are a few tips to consider while setting up your workspace for success:
- Monitor: your monitor(s) should be at eye level so you are never straining to look up or down while working. If you have a laptop, this can be difficult, unless you want to look like a munchkin sitting super low in your chair. You could purchase a stand to hold your laptop, or get creative and use a small box for that extra boost.
- Open space: you don’t need to have something on every inch of your desk. Having an open area where you can actually see the desk is helpful to keeping your mind clear. This is also a good area to use if you’re working on a task that is not on your computer. Perhaps you are reviewing a contract, reading the business journal, etc., this area will help you focus on those tasks as well.
- Supplies: most of us use the same office supplies from day-to-day, whether that’s post-its, writing utensils, etc. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to put these supplies away. Make a spot for them and make it a goal to get them to that spot as frequently as possible.
- Decorations: use decorations that are motivating and don’t bring in too many personal items. A good rule of thumb for personal items is to have three or less personal items in your workspace to decrease distractions. If you have 25 pictures of your child on your desk and surrounding areas, every time you look at one of them, you’re most likely going to get distracted by thinking about your child. Even if it only distracts you for a couple of minutes, it’s a distraction nonetheless.
4. Make a List, Check it Twice
Some people don’t find lists useful. While lists don’t always work for everyone, there are some basic guidelines to stick to that will increase chances of it working for you. First, take Stephen Covey’s advice and prioritize your tasks into categories of importance and urgency. The grid below is a good way to lay out your to do list using this prioritization technique.
To take this trick one step further, try to expand the tasks in Quadrant II. These tasks are oftentimes ongoing projects or things that aid an overall strategy. The more you can break up these items and put some smaller tasks into Quadrant I or Quadrant III, the faster you will be able to complete the overall task.
5. Take a Break… Seriously
Who would have thought that one of the more effective ways to increase focus and efficiency is to just take a break? Believe it or not, it’s true. In the same way a vacation refreshes you, breaks can also help restore your mind to keep you focused and efficient at work. In a study done last year, it was found that people are more efficient if they work for 52 minutes straight, then take a break for 17 minutes.
One way to increase the benefits of these breaks is by doing something that stimulates another part of your brain. So, if you’re sitting (or standing) at a desk all day, staring at your computer, taking a break to go on a walk or to stretch can do wonders for your productivity levels. Say goodbye to the 2:30pm motivation decline that happens to all of us, and instead, walk away from the computer and give your body the refresh it needs.
So that’s it! Pretty simple huh? If you have more tips to stay focused and efficient at work, we’d love to hear them about them in the comments section.