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Joe Szynkowski: How to overcome distractions at work

From the WorkHappy Wrap-up: April's best business advice from Joe Szynkowski series
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As I worked on this column, I received 27 notifications from my smartphone and six pings from my desktop communication platforms (Slack, Asana, and Teams.)

And even though I blocked time on my calendar to write, I still answered two business calls and five texts from friends.

All things considered, that was a peaceful morning for me.

I’m not sure if it’s because I am in the communications field or if I’m simply taking on too many projects, but somedays I want to throw my phone out the window. Or at least turn it off for a few hours.

My wife and I were fantasizing this week about a life away from technology. What was it like for adults when your house phone was the primary way of communicating with others? Was it pure bliss to leave your house and be off the grid for a few hours?

Did you actually feel like a grown-up who could make decisions or do things without anyone else knowing?

We’ve created this monster ourselves. Social media has killed the ideal of privacy – and we love it. People know what we’re eating for lunch, when we get a haircut, or what we think about the new episode of Yellowstone.

According to the global tech care company Asurion, Americans check their smartphones 96 times per day. Social media makes up the biggest chunk of our online distractions.

And the interferences are creeping into work.

In a June 2020 survey by Statistic, workers were asked what they thought were the greatest sources of distraction. Among the respondents, 53.7% said that their smartphones were affecting their productivity, while 30.4% admitted that gaming was keeping them from their daily work responsibilities.

Remote work has only accentuated the difficulties we have with staying focused on our work.

One of the best things about working from home is having full access to the refrigerator. One of the worst things about working from home is having full access to the refrigerator.

I found myself staring into the fridge on Monday like it held the secret to the meaning of life. I had just eaten 20 minutes earlier. Apparently, my phone wasn’t buzzing enough so I was seeking another distraction?

Here are some tips I use to stay focused at work, although now that I’ve shared my fridge story, you may want to seek a second opinion.

Answer Emails in Chunks

Anyone I work with knows when I’m in my inbox because they’ll get multiple replies to their questions in rapid-fire succession. The thing I learned early in my work-from-home journey was to hold off on responding to messages.

My first instinct early on was to answer as quickly as possible. That let my clients know I was responsive and attentive. On the flipside, it also let them know I was available and they could reach me any time they pleased.

By limiting the amount of time I spend responding to emails, I can better focus on the work at hand versus answering messages that likely do not require immediate attention.

Step Away from Your Phone

When I need to wrap up a critical project, I switch my phone to ‘do not disturb’ and move it across the room. Out of sight, out of mind.

From January through March, I also took a break from Facebook. Besides occasionally making posts for my wife’s mini donut food truck, I was MIA for months. And it was amazing.

Interesting in knowing how much time you’re spending on social media? You can install time-tracking applications on your phone that will break down your app consumption time. Prepare to be surprised how much of your day is devoted to liking, sharing, and commenting on posts.

Stop Multi-Tasking

For many professionals, multi-tasking is a point of pride. We think shows value and great work ethic to balance multiple projects at once.

The opposite is true.

Multi-tasking reduces productivity and creativity. A Harvard Business Review study points out that our productivity goes down by 40 percent when we attempt to focus on several things at once.

Hopefully these tips are useful.

I planned on writing a stronger conclusion, but my phone started ringing.

Joe Szynkowski is the happy founder and owner of The UpWrite Group, a small local firm that has offered corporate communications, personal branding, public relations, and ghostwriting services since 2008. Email for more information.


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