The last few years have seen increased controversy about British productivity. For example, October 2017 saw the publication of a report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It found , rather embarrassingly for us Brits, that the average German worker produces more in just four days than their British equivalent managed in five. That’s a big difference.
Here’s the ONS link if you’d like to read more about their international comparisons of productivity
But sometimes productivity can be radically improved by really simple steps. Here is one of them.
Boost your personal productivity – avoid distractions
Being distracted is one of the worst ways to become more efficient. Just how bad can distraction be?
There’s plenty of research on the subject – for example, here is what Erik Altmann, Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University, says on the subject.
“2 seconds is long enough to make people lose the thread.”
And other research has shown that it can take between 15 and 25 minutes, on average, “to resume a task after being interrupted ………….and to regain the same intense focus“.
In an attempt to improve the productivity here at Bonallack and Bishop, senior partner Tim Bishop regularly delivers a workshop on the subject, initially aimed at all the new graduates and other junior lawyers who form part of our Advanced Development Programme.
And here are the suggestions come from that workshop on avoiding distractions.
How can I identify and avoid interruptions?
Perhaps the first place to start, if you’re really serious about avoiding disruptions, to find out how bad your personal problem is.
So why not keep an interruption log for a week – so you can see how you are being interrupted day by day. That way you can find out exactly how much of your time is being lost and who is responsible.
If, as I suspect, many of you find that you are really suffering from regular and constant interruptions, here are some of our suggestions on how to deal with them
• Are you interrupting other people? The problem isn’t just being distracted – distracting other people not only waste your time, but also theirs. So discipline yourself, and hold back from unnecessarily interrupting others. Save it for lunchtime or after work.
I understand that when it comes to on-the-job training, juniors do need constant feedback. But repeatedly asking for individual items of feedback can prove really problematical for the productivity of their supervisor or trainer. So we suggest that instead of jumping up to talk to a colleague any time a question comes up, juniors should consider keeping a separate “talk-to” list of topics for each colleague, then waiting until they have several items and setting a meeting to deal with those issues.
• Have a polite word with whoever is interrupting you – most people probably don’t realise the effect of their interruptions. So tell them – as nicely as possible.
• No eye contact. If you don’t look up when someone comes into the room or a colleague says something, it’s quite difficult to engage in conversation. No eye my contact is a real killer when it comes to idle chitchat.
• Sign on the door – yes that’s right – put up a simple visible notice somewhere – to remind people not to interrupt you. Pretty unsubtle and not very pretty, but remarkably effective.
• Close your door. No one said these suggestions had to be sophisticated!
Many years ago, when I was new to management, I loved the idea of having an open door policy – but in my opinion, it doesn’t work. It just encourages people to wander in for a chat or two interrupting you constantly in the process.
Close your door and people will only interrupt you if they really need to.
• Diverting phone calls. The phone is a particularly problematic source of distraction. It’s hard to ignore and difficult control. So, when you’re involved in some complex work involving deep thought, avoid the risk of being interrupted by the phone. Get a colleague to cover your calls for a designated period, diverting your phone to them.
But never use any “do not disturb” function. That’s a horrendous waste of somebody else’s time and so frustrating – if they keep ringing back only to find you constantly engaged. In my view “do not disturb” is a guaranteed way to lose clients and customers, and infuriate your colleagues
• Desk partitions. Nothing says “don’t interrupt me” like a physical barrier. Individual offices work well – but aren’t always possible or economic. In their absence, desk partitions proved really useful – we find them essential in some of our shared rooms.
• Wear headphones. Another very simple one. You don’t even have to have the headphones plugged in and playing – but anyone seeing your wearing headphones is likely to get the clear message not to bother you. It works particular well when combined with the lack of eye contact. You have to be pretty bullish, or really do need to speak to someone urgently, to get their attention when they’re not looking at you and wearing headphones!
• Working in a different office or from home. With modern technology home working can be particularly useful from time to time. A number of our lawyers do this on a regular basis – though with broadband email and a phone system that allows calls to be put through to them, clients need never know that their lawyer is not sitting at the desk in the firm’s office.
• Avoid social media. It never ceases to amaze me how so many people are not just wedded to their phones but seem to find it necessary to get regular reminders of the most inane celebrity information. Research shows that youngsters, particularly post-millennials, may be struggling with the ability to think deeply – because they never have the time to do so, with constant phone and social media interruptions. The answer is simple. Make all staff aware that social media access should be in their own time only.
• Don’t be a slave to your emails. It also amazes me that so many people leave automatic email reminders on – so every time they get a new message, they hear some irritating sound. Totally unnecessary. Much more effective to ration your email time, checking your emails and dealing with them every couple of hours.
The importance of personal workspace in productivity – interesting recent research
A study a few years back by Exeter University, involving 2000 students, compared employment productivity between those working in what they referred to as a “lean” (i.e. functional but bare) environment with those in “empowered” (where they design their own workspace) and “enriched” (with family pictures, plots etc) environments.
The researchers found that those working in “empowered” spaces were actually 32% more productive than staff working in “lean” ones.
Furthermore those working in “enriched” spaces were 17% more productive. Why should this be? The reason they provide is that giving employees more control over their own environment, increases motivation.
Provided they stick to health and safety rules, it might be worth giving your employees a little more freedom to personalise their own workspace – it sounds a pretty cheap way to me to boost productivity.
Do you have any suggestions on how to avoid distractions? Do share them, we love to hear from you.
Just email me, Tim Bishop, at email@example.com