Thursday, June 5, 2008

Understanding Why You Really Get Distracted at Work

If you feel like you're going to scream the next time someone interrupts you at work, pay attention. The problem may not be them -- but you.

That's right. You're the cause of your own distractions. You may be responsible for driving yourself crazy.

Let's be real. That candy dish on your desk? A "hello, stop and chat" magnet if ever there was one. Looking up whenever someone walks by (smile optional)-- a sure sign you're willing to shoot the breeze.

And let's talk about those cute little toys on your desk and the funny posters that cover your cubicle or office walls. That doesn't exactly say you're serious about work, now does it? You may consider them just part of your work space, but to some people they say: "Whoopee! Always ready to be interrupted for whatever silly thing you have to say!"

OK, so now that we've started getting to the truth of why you can't concentrate at work, let's get a bit tougher. There is no reason that once you've greeted everyone with a smile or friendly hello at the beginning of the day, you should keep it up. You're not a cruise director are you? You can always just nod when you pass someone in the hallway -- but keep moving! If an unexpected visitor shows up, you can offer a friendly smile or greeting, but stand up and offer your hand, while saying: “How can I help you?” This shows that you’re ready for business, and keeps the person from lingering for too long.

Some other tips for cutting down on distractions:
• Talk to yourself. You can either do this in your head or aloud, but continually say to yourself: “What is the most important thing I need to be doing right now?” This serves two purposes: It helps you stay focused and your muttering concerns just enough people to keep them from getting too close.
• Find your hiding spot. The advantage of having laptops is that they allow you to pick up your work and head for another destination. Ask the boss if you can go to a local coffee shop or book an empty conference room so that you can have some uninterrupted time. Turn off your cell phone and only check it once an hour.
• Consider your own behavior. It could be that one of the reasons you’re getting off track is because you’re part of the problem. How many times do you stop and talk to others in a typical day? When you’re waiting on phone calls, or between projects, do you wander over to someone else’s desk to talk? Do you linger around the coffeepot? By behaving in such a way, you aren’t respecting the time of others – and they may be only too happy to return the favor when you least need it.


What are some of your most common distractions? Do you have ways to eliminate them?


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Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Interrupting Co-Worker

I recently received a letter from an employee (I’ll call her Barbara) who was fed up with a man (I’ll call him Jason) in her office who constantly interrupted her. The interrupter was nice, the person said, but she was going to strangle him one of these days.

“He just starts talking, really loudly, when I’m on the phone,” Barbara says. “And, the other day he did the same thing when I was in the middle of a conversation with someone else. He couldn’t miss the fact that I was speaking with someone, but he just kept talking really loudly.”

To add to the annoyance is the fact that Jason has an irritating laugh – “sort of a cross between a honking goose and braying jackass,” Barbara wrote.

This letter is similar to many complaints I have heard over the years. While we may find the people with work with nice enough, some of their habits drive us crazy. We spend up to eight hours a day or more with these folks, and often certain personality quirks can cause huge problems if not addressed.

Here’s a way to handle someone like Jason:

Be perfectly clear. There’s no use pussyfooting around someone who continually interrupts you. If you’re on the phone, ask that person to hold a moment, or excuse yourself with a smile when speaking directly to someone. Walk up to Jason, look him in the eye and say, “I am in the middle of something that I need to finish. I will talk with you later.” If you need to, guide Jason out of your office or away from your work space with your hand on his elbow.

Follow up. If the problem exists on many levels – Jason interrupting when you’re on the phone, Jason interrupting private conversations, Jason interrupting when you’re in a meeting – then you need to make sure he fully understands your position. Find a time and place to speak to him privately and say: “I should have spoken up when this first happened, so forgive me for that oversight. Your voice can be very loud and disruptive when I’m on the phone, and interrupting me when it’s not an emergency is a problem. I’d like to talk about how we can resolve it.”

Finally, remember that because you have to continue to work on a daily basis with some of these people who irritate you, don’t be so rude or hostile to them that you sever any chances of working together in a professional way. Always remain calm, but continue to stand by your position that it’s a problem affecting the way you do your job, so it is an issue that must be addressed.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Working From Home a Challenge

There are a lot of things I don’t know for sure in this life. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to grocery shop on the moon (my second grade teacher swore to my class that we would some day), I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out how to boogie board (I nearly drowned last time and made a lifeguard fall out of his chair he was laughing so hard), and I can’t say for sure if I’ll ever understand how Billy Mays got a job selling anything (why is he always yelling?)

But here is one thing I know for sure: As soon as my butt hits the chair in my home office, I will have visitors. And let me be clear on this: I can sneak to the office with all the stealth of a Navy SEAL on a top-secret mission, and somehow a red alert goes out: “Attention, attention: Anita Bruzzese is now in her office attempting to get something done. Stop her at all costs. Repeat: Stop her at all costs.”

So the dog and two cats appear, dumping over the trash, barfing up something they should not have eaten, and scrambling to lie on the computer keyboard, my lap or whatever papers I need, all the while drooling and shedding and panting and meowing.

But should I finally manage to contain the four-legged animals, the two-legged ones soon take up the challenge.

It begins with breathing.

They know I can hear them breathing. They don’t say anything, because I made it a rule a long time ago that unless someone was on fire or Publisher’s Clearinghouse was at the door, they are to leave me alone. So they breathe until I can’t stand it and I look up.

There stands one of the males in my family, who has lost a shoe, a school paper, a computer game, his appendix…something. Something that only a female (that would be me) can find. Like…right now.

Once I get that settled, then the technological interruptions begin. There is the e-mail from someone at a bank branch in Nigeria telling me that there is an identity theft and I need to contact them right away with all my vital information to make sure everything is secure (yeah, right). This is followed by the fundraising phone call from the Fraternal Order of Canadian Geese Police; the neighbor wanting to know if we’re having trouble with moles; and the movie rental store informing us we have five movies that are six weeks overdue (oh, crap).

The reason I’m sharing all this (other than to make you feel way better about your own situation), is that I understand how tough it is to work from home without interruptions . So far, most people I know who do it successfully work at 3 a.m. when everyone else is sleeping. Since I like to be one of those people sleeping at 3 a.m., I’ve put together a list of suggestions from experts and work-at-home warriors who swear these ideas can work. I’ll let you choose which ones might help you, and hope you’ll add some of your own to share with readers of this blog:

1. Run it up the flagpole. Turn on a certain lamp or use some other sign like a sock on the door handle (kind of different from the old college days, huh) to let others know that you’re working and you don’t want to be interrupted unless it’s that Publisher’s Clearinghouse thing, or something else really important.
2. Turn off the e-mail. Some people break out in hives if they can’t check e-mail fairly often, so tell yourself nothing earth-shattering can happen in 30 minutes, and only check it every half hour. Gradually wean yourself to checking it only once an hour. Promise yourself you will answer no personal e-mails while you’re working except after an hour’s worth of honest labor.
3. Organize your space. For some reason, home offices often are an afterthought. Instead, make it a priority. Put together an organized, dedicated space where you can work, out of the line of heavy traffic and noise. I know one man who found the solace he wanted in the basement workshop. His daughters hated the spiders that could be found down there, so they left him alone. The hum of the furnace provided some white-out noise to let him concentrate, and he was able to keep all his files in once place without fear they’d get lost in the hustle and bustle of a busy family.
4. Screen your calls. As much as you would like to chat with a friend or family member, don’t interrupt your work time. Schedule a break and use that time to return calls that are important and return the others when you have time after the work is done. If you’ve decided to work specific hours, let others know. It doesn’t always mean they’ll respect them, but it will make it easier for you to ignore the phone or the doorbell.
5. Put on blinders. This one is tough. You cannot look around too much when you’re working from home or you’ll notice the dishwasher that needs unloading or a new magazine you want to read. Many things will seem much more important than that pesky old report due for the boss tomorrow, so you’ve got to stay focused on what you need to get done.
6. Schedule breaks. I can’t stress enough that even though you’re working from home, it’s still home. That means you need to take breaks and toss the football with the kids, have coffee with your significant other or just put your feet up and read that favorite magazine for a while. It’s important that your home is a place to recharge your batteries and maintain a sense of balance.

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