Beating the Top 4 Productivity Zappers

Microsoft sparked a debate earlier this year by stating that social media might not be the workplace productivity drain it had been made out to be. Despite the company not having a popular social media site of its own, Microsoft conducted its own study that found social media tools actually improved productivity.

But as experts argue about the merits vs. pitfalls of Facebooking in the office, it’s important to note that social media still isn’t at the top of the list of productivity zappers in the modern workplace. Most are technology-related, granted, but you may be surprised to know that many are actually work-related.

#1: E-mail

The top productivity-zapper in the workplace today is e-mail. According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, the average knowledge worker spends 28 percent of his or her time composing, double-checking, and reading e-mails. That’s the equivalent of 73 full days per year. But more importantly, the fact that we’re pulled from the task at hand every time an e-mail comes in zaps our productivity more than the amount of time we’re dedicating to it.

The emergence of mobile devices has only exacerbated the problem. Today, we’re tapping that envelope icon almost every waking minute, cutting down on the amount of time we can devote to actual work. To maximize productivity, force yourself to avoid checking e-mail on an ongoing basis. Exit all notifications and allow yourself to only check e-mails at the top of the hour–every half hour at most. Believe it or not, the world will not fall apart if your response to an e-mail is delayed for a half an hour or so.

#2: Telephone

Whether it’s your cell phone or the landline on your desk, its incessant ringing is definitely cutting into your ability to get work done. By turning off that ringer and giving yourself a solid block of uninterrupted time, you’ll be able to concentrate and complete that project. It’s especially important you put the phone away the next time you sit around a conference table to brainstorm a project or strategize.

For business owners, personal cell phones can drag down productivity for a completely different reason. Employees may check phones under the desk or go to the ladies’ room to take a personal call on an ongoing basis. If you don’t have a personal phone policy in place, create one. Make sure it covers non-speaking personal phone use, as well, including your policies on playing games and listening to music while working.

#3: Internet

Google has made life easier for everyone, allowing curious minds to find the answer to any question in seconds. It’s both a blessing and a curse. If you’ve ever searched for information on a news story and found yourself still reading 45 minutes later, you know how easily the Internet can become a productivity-zapper.

Social media falls under this category, but it can also fall under the cell phone category. Even if you block social media use on company servers, that won’t stop your workers from checking their pages on their phones every time they get a chance. Instead, consider encouraging employees to use their social media sites to promote the latest product offerings from your business. Businesses who embrace the changing technology are more likely to successfully use it for their own benefit.

#4: Meetings

Do you meet to plan your meetings? If so, you’re likely wasting time. Weekly staff meetings and ongoing status reports waste time for everyone involved. Meet with key management personnel, if you must, and have those personnel share the information down the line. Or better yet, handle the issues you would discuss in an hour-long meeting in a short, succinct e-mail.

As you examine whether or not productivity-zappers are actually impacting your business, ask yourself if employees are truly distracted or if the workload is simply unbalanced. Employees who cannot finish tasks may be overloaded more than unproductive. Employees who spend all day on the Internet may not be clear on their work goals or simply may not have enough to do. Focus on the results of an employee’s work output rather than how that employee is spending eight a.m. to five p.m. each day and you’ll see improved results.

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Stephanie Faris

Stephanie is a freelance writer and young adult/middle grade novelist, who worked in information systems for more than a decade. Her first book, 30 Days of No Gossip, will be released by Simon and Schuster in spring 2014. She lives in Nashville with her husband.

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