Email notifications. Slack pings. Open floor plans. Endless meetings. And phone calls.
These ubiquitous and near-constant distractions of the modern office make it tough to stay focused on the task at hand. Co-workers and clients typically expect fast responses from digital communications, pulling us away from our actual work.
The Cost of Distraction
In a recent article for BBC, Georgetown professor Cal Newport asserts, “Managers spend 85% of the day in meetings, on the phone or talking to people about work, not doing it.”
The resulting lack of focus damages productivity and quality of output. The BBC quotes a study that found regaining deep focus following an interruption takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds! Clearly, we need to rethink the current standard of constant multi-tasking to improve our performance at work.
Muting notifications, wearing noise-canceling headphones, and scheduling fewer meetings can all help reduce distractions. But fundamentally the issue is how we prioritize what we’re working on.
Newport recommends replicating the process of software engineers. By breaking work down into short ‘sprints’ and focussing on only one thing for two or three days, engineers ensure that tasks are done correctly and efficiently. Newport says this method is “more amenable to the way the brain operates.”
For companies in the startup and scale-up phase, a high volume of work for employees who often fill multiple roles make this kind of deep focus near impossible. With the day-to-day chaos of keeping everything running, it can be difficult even just to figure out where to start when you finally have time to focus on the work that can move the business forward.
At Align, we use what we call “Top Priority” to help solve this problem.
Every day, each employee selects the one thing they commit to doing that day that will move the business forward. Additionally, we announce it to the entire company during our daily huddle.
Committing to focus on this specific key task creates focus for whatever work an employee has to do that day. Just as a software engineer commits to completing a specific ticket, a daily top priority helps eliminate the distractions that pop up so the work required to move the business forward gets done.
Align’s application includes a “Top Priority Calendar”. In our one-on-one reviews with managers, we go over how we’ve done on completing these tasks.
Tools for Focus
Eliminating all distractions may very well be impossible in today’s hyperconnected age. Recently my workday was interrupted when a bird got trapped in our office and I had to figure out a creative way to remove it without harming it. These kinds of things are unavoidable!
However, simple steps like committing to get just one thing done each and every day go a surprisingly long way towards creating the focus necessary to complete business-critical work, regardless of what distractions may pop up. Making myself accountable goes hand in hand with a commitment to focus.
As the modern workplace evolves, new tools and methods will need to be developed to streamline workflows and processes. It often seems like most new tools to increase communication end up increasing distractions.
Implementing tools that can create focus isn’t just necessary for productivity, but also for our sanity.
To learn more about how your business can eliminate distractions and focus on what matters, schedule a demo of Align to learn how we can help!