Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the following article are those of the guest author and do not necessarily represent or reflect Mentor Works Ltd.
Much has been written about the growing problem, in our fast-paced information age, of distracted employees who don’t complete required tasks in a time-effective or focused manner. Realistically, there are a number of societal and workplace cultural factors at play, but they can be limited to improve organizational productivity.
The “problem” of employee distraction can also be reframed as an opportunity to improve employee engagement.
People typically get distracted because they feel bored, they feel lonely, or because their workflow is cumbersome, burdensome, outdated, restrictive, inflexible, or doesn’t fit the context they were designed for. They get distracted because their job requires too much multitasking, or because they are working longer hours and have life concerns pressing on them.
Distracted workers are often under-employed or focusing their time on tasks that others could do far more cost-effectively. This article shares some tips for helping employees sharpen their focus and use rapidly evolving business process management software to reach performance and output goals.
Encourage Employees to “Eat the Frog”
No matter how hard we try to distribute workloads so employees are focused on doing what they enjoy, at best we will only arrive at 80-90% (in a good environment). This means that 10-20% of the time employees are engaged in tasks that make them feel physically or emotionally drained. These are your “eat the frog” tasks – and they differ for every individual.
Helping employees frame difficult tasks this way brings levity to the situation – and research shows that people are less anxious and distracted when they get their frog-eating out of the way as the first task. They can then get down to the serious business of enjoying what they do for you. Consider even setting up a frog icon on your business software that employees can check off, drop down an animated gullet, make hop away or otherwise have some fun disposing of.
Use Process Management Software to Prioritize Work
Whether or not your company has subscribed to a business process management software package, it’s likely that your employees are accessing some form of software package for e-mail, instant messaging, cloud sharing, calendars, to-do lists, mind mapping, and other applications. Many of these programs have built-in features that allow for prioritization of work. More sophisticated versions, including some Apple apps, can even replicate the very well-reviewed process for bullet journaling and visually classifying tasks.
These processes and tools that employees learn can be incorporated into the software and hardware packages that your company offers. If you opt for a good centrally-used platform, there are dozens of options to help employees track, reorder, prioritize, report problems, and check off tasks.
Let Employees Design the Workflow
Many employees struggle when navigating business processes and systems that were designed for them to use. Often, this is because the system was designed by someone who never did their job, employees were not consulted on the design, the system is inherited, or the process once worked but is no longer useful.
Tap into your greatest resource, your employees! Let them help identify what should be fixed and be part of the solution. With employees who feel responsible for their own workflow, productivity will improve and there will be far fewer unengaged workers.
Let Employees Switch Between Tasks to Reduce Fatigue
Mental, physical, and emotional fatigue are serious issues related to employee disengagement, stress, and burnout. Fortunately, there is psychological evidence that suggests the deliberate switching of tasks at a set time interval is a far superior strategy to randomly switching back and forth, especially in response to “critical, time sensitive issues that need to taken care of immediately,” AKA the dreaded “multitasking.”
Software platforms and more simplistic applications can help set intervals: 30 minutes on a critical report, 15 minutes to respond to urgent email, let phone go to voice and answer on the hour after a brief walk around the office. Then back to the report, and repeat until finished. Lacking an application, phone alarms will suffice. Even better, if you have an employee assigned to a critical report, assign someone else to cover for them answering the phone.
Otherwise, a person trying to write a report spends 2 minutes on the report, 5 minutes on a phone call, 15 minutes recovering their train of thought, 10 minutes on the report, 3 minutes on the phone, 10 minutes recovering train of thought, etc. Ask anyone who has ever written a novel or a graduate thesis. The first strategy may have the “disadvantage” of making people wait a half-hour to have their phone call returned, but it will get returned. And the report will get written, too. Most importantly, the employee will feel in control of his or her situation and can calmly switch tasks, focusing on what is most important at the moment. Barring actual emergencies, which of course do happen, this is a far more productive strategy.
Provide Employees with Unstructured Down Time
Employees are people, too. They need time to disengage, and time to recharge. Instead of policing internet usage, for example, allow them to take a few minutes to watch a [suitable for work] video that brightens their mood, or take a walk with a camera, or go to the gym at an odd hour, or grab a cappuccino with their co-worker to run an idea by them.
You get the idea. Unstructured downtime is not just good for business, it is good for human beings, too. Worried about productivity? That is what you have time management software for. You use it to track, review, and evaluate an employee’s end product, results, ratings, etc.
Plus, if you’re automating more of your tasks, employees will feel like they have the time to take a break. For example, investing in cloud based inventory management software will allow your employees to track stock levels and purchase orders. This means less room for human error and employees who feel less stressed.
Encourage Employee Collaboration
Allow employees to offer their expertise to others, and to seek others to help think or work through something that is tricky, stuck, innovative, boring, or otherwise well-suited to collaboration. Also ditch the “only work within your job description” mentality. You might be surprised what someone whose hobby is photography, or video game design, or calligraphy, might contribute to your corporate culture and customer service. Providing good communication platforms for employees to find and share with each other is an instant productivity booster.
Encourage Process Feedback
Many times, something is not working for an employee but supervisors don’t know about it. This could be because the employee does not feel encouraged to speak up about it, or the supervisor does not communicate it to management, or management does not act, etc. Creating a culture conducive to process feedback is an effective way to improve employee focus because those daily frustrations add up otherwise.
An employee is likely to continue giving his or her best if their concerns are listened to, acknowledged, and, most importantly, addressed. An easy way to facilitate this type of feedback is to build it into your business process management software function.
Ryan Stewart is a digital marketing consultant with over 8 years of experience working to help Fortune 500 brands grow their online presence. He currently resides in Miami, where he owns boutique creative agency WEBRIS. You can find Ryan on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Posted: May 16, 2018 by Myra Bredin. Updated: May 16, 2018 by Myra Bredin.