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Did you know that employees waste 759 hours each year due to workplace distractions? This is according to a survey of 2,000 people conducted by the personal financial management service Think Money.
Its research also revealed that one in ten people admit to achieving just half an hour of productive output per day.
In many respects this is nothing new, as there have been numerous studies about wasting time at work with very similar findings; so what can you do to arrest procrastination? And how can you boost productivity at work?
The following points were cited as the biggest distractions in Think Money’s survey. Thankfully, the ways in which you can eliminate these intrusions and interferences have been proven by various studies.
Remember that the hours you can reclaim for each distraction is based on 21 working days per month and then rounded up or down.
1. Noisy office
Think Money’s survey found that noisy workplaces were the main cause of distraction, disturbing more than three in 10 workers. Another study also discovered that on average, employees waste 21.5 minutes per day due to noise distractions.
“Chatting to colleagues and having some banter can create a positive and productive workplace,” said Think Money’s Ian Williams. “Workers just need to be careful that this doesn’t tip over into becoming an annoyance for others.”
How to deal with a noisy office environment:
- Listen to the right types of music – While music is effective in raising repetitive work efficiency, your playlist preferences for tasks that require more brainpower will need careful contemplation. Earplugs or a pair of noise cancellation headphones can also be worn without any music playing in order to block out the sounds of your standard office.
- Embrace quiet zones – Seeing as international research from Ipsos and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase shows that just 6.5 per cent of people think an open-plan environment is productive, a lot can be said for embracing quiet zones. “If we spend more than half of our time on work that requires concentration, we need to be sure we have some quiet places in the office; otherwise performance will suffer,” said Janet Pogue, a principal at global design firm Gensler.
- Ask to be moved – If you are not allowed to wear earphones and listen to music or your workplace’s layout has no room for manoeuvre, you can always ask your manager to be moved. Suggest that employees with more taxing tasks be moved away from noisier teams, such as the sales department.
Potential hours reclaimed: Up to 7.5 hours/month
2. Slow computer/internet
Almost a quarter of respondents to Think Money’s survey blamed slow computers or a bad Internet connection for poor productivity. In fact, another study commissioned by computer storage company SanDisk also found that Britons lose an average of five and a half days work every year because of slow computers.
Along with the frustration of waiting for pages to load or emails to open, this distraction can be incredibly costly too. Poor Internet connections that force employees to lose 44 minutes every week cost the UK economy a whopping £11bn a year.
How to speed up a slow computer or slow Internet:
- Speed up your computer – From upgrading hardware and getting rid of unnecessary software to tweaking operating system settings and cleaning up your hard drive, there are countless ways to speed up your computer. Advice for Windows laptops and PCs can be found here and here, while performance tips for Macs can be found here.
- Upgrade your computer – If you have exhausted every option to speed up your computer with little success, it might be time for a new machine altogether. Follow this handy guide on whether you need to replace your desktop and what to look for.
- Explore Internet speed hacks – If your Internet is slow rather than your computer, there are various hacks you can try to speed up a poor connection. Start by looking at your choice of browser and its plugins before moving on to troubleshooting your hardware and boosting your Wi-Fi signal.
- Upgrade your broadband – If all else fails, you may need to consider changing your broadband provider. If your location and network’s broadband potential isn’t being realised (using a tool like net), you should give your provider a ring for answers and improvements.
Potential hours reclaimed: Up to 15 hours/month
3. Checking mobile phone
Even though the multi-tasking processing power of smartphones is something society could only dream of a decade or so ago, their ability to distract employees at work remains a massive problem. 23 per cent of respondents to Think Money’s survey said looking at their mobile phone interrupts work flow.
These findings are backed-up by research from recruiters CareerBuilders, which also found one in four workers (24 per cent) admitted that, during a typical workday, they will spend at least one hour a day on personal calls, emails or texts.
How to stop checking your mobile phone at work:
- Calculate time spent using your mobile phone – There are various apps available that enable you to monitor how much time you spend on your smartphone. One of the most popular on Android is QualityTime, while a favourite among iOS users is Moment.
- Turn off all notifications – Simple but incredibly effective. Turn off all your notifications or switch on Airplane/Offline mode to curb smartphone usage.
- Store in a safe, out-of-reach place – One of the tips in this article on how to stop checking your phone like an addict is to assign it a safe place out of reach.
Potential hours reclaimed: Up to 11 hours
4. Internet browsing/online shopping
In modern-day working environments where most employees are in front of a computer all day, it is hardly surprising that 22 per cent of people said web surfing and online shopping were major distractions.
Once again, another source verifies this claim, with 21 per cent of people estimating that they spend one hour or more during a typical workday on the internet for non-work purposes, such as online banking, checking the weather forecast, replying to personal emails, and reading news sites.
How to stop Internet browsing and shopping at work:
- Calculate time spent on non-work related Internet browsing – Just like smartphone activity, it is possible to monitor how long you spend on certain types of websites and applications using RescueTime. The premium version goes one step further and enables you to track offline activities such as meetings, toilet breaks, phone calls, and commutes too.
- Self-discipline – “If you are struggling, deserve more from your life, or are just passing through life unmotivated then you need to take action to change that,” says personal development guru Sid Savara, who suggests these five ways to stop wasting time online.
- Block access to non-work related websites – You might end up visiting new sites to waste time on, but blocking your favourite online haunts is still very effective. Apps to block access include StayFocusd (Chrome Extension), FocalFilter (Windows), and SelfControl (Mac).
Potential hours reclaimed: Up to 21 hours
5. Pointless meetings
Some office workers might quite like the respite an occasional conference room gathering affords. Then again, 20 per cent of people believe that pointless meetings are the reason for wasted work hours.
Most employees attend 62 meetings a month, but half of these are considered a waste of time. Overall, 31 hours are spent in unproductive meetings over an average month, with 91 per cent of employees guilty of daydreaming, while 39 per cent have admitted to falling asleep.
How to deal with unproductive meetings at work:
- Ask yourself, “Do I really need to arrange this meeting?” – Instead of gathering all employees together at once, it might be quicker and easier to speak with a member of staff directly or simply send round a group email. Try to determine if you can accomplish what needs to be done without arranging a meeting.
- Prepare and share in advance – “If you still think you need to schedule a meeting, create a detailed agenda,” advises Lisa Quast from Forbes. Ian Altman, another contributor to Forbes, believes you should share meeting materials with colleagues in advance, define the areas in which you need help, and chart a course for where you are heading, not where you have been.
Potential hours reclaimed: Up to 31 hours
6. Social media
If members of staff browse the Internet or use their smartphones at work, chances are they will visit Facebook, Twitter, or another social media site at some point, as 17 per cent of people say this is a big office distraction.
How much time do we spend on social media at work? Well, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 people carried out by VoucherCodesPro, employees spend on average 1.5 hours a day on social media sites, which is more than they do at home.
How to stop wasting time on social media at work:
- Calculate time spent on social media websites – As with mobile phone activity and Internet browsing, you can calculate time spent on social media to discourage your dependency. The aforementioned self-discipline advice and site-blocking apps should help too.
- But it’s part of my job – If you have to visit sites like Facebook and Twitter for the purposes of your job, the key is being more efficient. This warrants an article in itself but the main points to remember are using tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, Twitterfeed and IFFT to automate activity, and managing your time better by only accessing social media for 15 minutes in the morning, at lunch, and the end of the day.
Potential hours reclaimed: Up to 31.5 hours per month
7. Personal emailing
Checking, reading, and sending emails to clients and customers is part and parcel of everyday office life. However, 17 per cent of respondents to Think Money’s survey believe that personal emails are a distraction too far.
“Everyone gets distracted at work and it seems many workers are spending a large chunk of their working hours concentrating on personal jobs instead,” said Andy Oldman, managing director of cash back site Quidco.com, which commissioned the research cited in distraction number 4. Furthermore, men spend about 40 minutes on personal email, compared with 25 minutes for women.
How to stop yourself from personal emailing at work:
- Self-discipline – Yet again, Sid Savara’s advice on how to stop wasting time online should come in handy here.
- Use email filters effectively – If you use an email platform like Gmail or Thunderbird, you can configure the settings to pre-sort your email and set-up commands for certain correspondence to go to certain inbox folders.
Potential hours reclaimed: Up to 11 hours per month
8. Room temperature
Workplace air temperature has such a strong impact on employee productivity that 14 per cent of respondents say it is actually a distraction.
“It may seem like common sense that the working at a comfortable temperature would make you more productive, but what may not be apparent is how much of a difference just a couple of degrees can make in that very same productivity and your overall office ergonomics,” notes Chris Adams, ergonomics expert.
How to stop room temperature from becoming a distraction:
- Set the temperature just right – Research from Berkeley Lab into the relationship between temperature and office work performance found that relative performance peaked at a temperature of 21.5 degrees Celsius.
- Dress appropriately for the seasons – Although your workplace should adhere to legal temperature requirements, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for the seasons by wearing appropriate attire.
- Have a fan ready for the summer months – Even if your employer refuses to supply you with a fan for the summer months, it will be an extremely worthwhile investment anyway.
Potential hours reclaimed: Up to 11 hours
9. Uncomfortable chair
In addition to pain and potential long-term health issues, sitting in an uncomfortable chair is a workplace distraction for 9 per cent of people.
If you work an average of 40 hours a week, you will end up sitting at your desk chair for more than 2,000 hours each year. Therefore, having a comfortable chair is imperative.
How to deal with an uncomfortable chair at work:
- Use cushions – Cushions behind your back can offer proper lumbar support, while your neck, arms, and shoulders won’t have to support as much weight. Cushions can also make your seat much more comfortable and supportive to sit on too.
- Adjust the height of your chair – There is a strong chance the height of your chair is wrong for your workstation. Try different heights as well as the angle and location of your computer screen to avoid craning your neck.
- Request an ergonomic chair – Convince your employer to purchase an ergonomic chair by listing benefits such as better output, more alert due to improved sleep, and reduced discomfort to eliminate distraction.
Potential hours reclaimed: Up to 11 hours
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