How to Prevent Distractions from Halting Productivity

Technology can distract employees, even though they can perform tasks with cleaning software. Learn how to handle it.

An entire office gathered around the break room TV, breathlessly watching and awaiting their country’s next goal. One or two employees, though on the phones with customers, have the game on full-screen on a second monitor. They may be talking to clients with their mouths, but their minds are on something else entirely. All the while, the manager sits quietly in an office, doing his absolute best to stay focused while not being “that guy” who ruins all the fun for everyone else.

Doubtless, you’ve all heard stories similar to these. While the 2014 World Cup is currently providing the latest opportunity for employees to distract themselves from their day-to-day responsibilities at work, it certainly won’t be the last. Here are some tips for properly dealing with distractions and outside noise that can harm the productivity of your workforce.

  • Know that distractions come in all shapes and sizes: Of course there are the large distractions that come to mind instantly, such as the World Cup or the Olympics, but I find that the smaller distractions are the ones that end up making the biggest difference.

    In the janitorial industry, everything we do for our job comes because we are tied to our phones and mobile devices. Work order notifications can come through our phones, we can do inspections on our phones, we can even clock in and out on our phones. This reliance on our phones has many benefits, but it also means that we run the risk of using those phones to distract ourselves from our jobs (personal calls, text messages, and so on). Recognition of where our distractions come from is the first big step, which leads me to my next tip.

  • Set aside time to deal with the smaller distractions: Most regular distractions (such as calls and emails) aren’t inherently bad. There is a proper time and place for these things.

    Men’s Health recommends scheduling a specific team each day that will be solely dedicated to that task, and I completely agree. Personally, unless the email is marked as “high-priority” or “urgent,” I prefer to leave my email inbox untouched until the last five minutes of each hour. It gives me the opportunity to keep up on my workload, while also not wasting a lot of time on my inbox. Setting a rigid schedule like this also means that I stay productive in dealing with my distractions, because I know that I don’t have the time to lazily idle my workday away.

  • Remember that no one is perfect: Try as you might, there is no way that you can completely shut out every distraction that comes along. Your employees are no different. Show patience and understanding with them, and they’ll trust you more. Personally, I find it very difficult to trust that a manager cares about me in any way if they drop the hammer on me every second I’m not constantly busy.

    Image courtesy of
    Image courtesy of

    Andy Teach, author of From Graduation to Corporation, has some counsel on the topic. “We’d all get burnt out pretty quickly if we didn’t get distracted from time to time and take our minds off of work,” Teach said. “The danger, however, is when distractions take up too much of our time and prevent us from getting our work done.”

  • Allow for some leeway: As any parent can attest, always banning your children from something they want to do (even if it’s not in their best interest, long-term) will inevitably lead to the children undertaking all kinds of secretive methods to still do what they want. In the case of the workplace, outright banning your employees from something they want to do — such as following the World Cup, for example — may work for some employees, but surely you will have others who choose to disobey and do what they want to do instead.

    In both cases with children and employees, the dedication it takes to hide a secret will often take more time and effort than it should.  Communicate to employees that while they do have autonomy during their work hours, they still have a job to do — and that they’ll still be responsible for meeting expectations. This will keep employee morale up, because they have the choice to either ignore or indulge in the distraction, but it also makes clear that they still have a job to do and that they’ll be held responsible for their results.

I know that the whole goal of a business is to make money, and therefore every minute spent on non-work tasks is money lost, but people aren’t machines. If there is a distraction that is decreasing productivity among your employees, don’t just put your foot down and ban your employees from it completely. Give them avenues to properly manage those distractions on their own, and the end result will be a workforce that has gained habits that will allow for maintained productivity, no matter what kind of distraction comes along.


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