You’re heads-down working on a high-profile analysis for your boss. After toiling away for most of the morning, you’re nearly finished crunching the numbers. Then, all of a sudden, your co-worker taps you on the shoulder, “Do you have a stapler I can borrow?”, she asks. You quickly hand her the stapler, but the damage has been done. You’ve lost focus. When you return to your Excel spreadsheet, it looks like a foreign language. You hopelessly ask yourself, “Where was I?”
As an executive, you’re swimming (drowning, perhaps) in distractions and information overload. It’s a steep uphill battle to regain focus after you've been subjected to distractions or other sources of overload. According to research, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task you were attending prior to an unruly disruption.
As an executive, your success hinges on your ability to quell distractions and manage overload.
1. Check email in batches
Email is one of the most potent sources of information overload in the workplace. Research by McKinsey found that 28% of a person’s workday is consumed checking email.
One of the most effective means of minimizing email overload is to check your email in chunks several times a day. A University of British Columbia study found that individuals who limit their email checking to 3 times per day are able to reduce stress levels and distractions by 47%.
As a busy executive, chances are high that you’re inundated with a flood of emails each day. Resist the temptation to read and/or respond to each message as it strikes your inbox. Your levels of productivity are likely to profit.
2. Consider walks and walking meetings
Most of us spend the majority of our workdays tethered to our desks. The lackluster environment causes us to be more susceptible to distractions and other sources of overload. Switching up your environment by going on a walk or walking meeting can prove very effective in helping you combat overload.
Walking meetings have the added benefit of enhancing your relationships with co-workers. The fact that you are walking side-by-side means the conversation is more peer-to-peer than when you are in your office and they are across a desk, which reinforces the organizational hierarchy.
3. Schedule office hours
Another harmful source of overwhelm manifests in the form of impromptu meetings. If your day is riddled with people walking over to meet with you at their convenience…get the friendly word out that you’re setting up designated office hours for walk-ins.
Daniel Goleman, author of the New York Times bestseller “Emotional Intelligence”, once stated, “One way to boost our willpower and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them manage us”. Try to manage your distractions. Try to take control of overload in the workplace. When workplace distractions are reduced, workers are more productive, motivated, and happier.
As Tim Cook once said, “You can focus on things that are barriers or you can focus on scaling the wall.”
I care deeply about helping leaders and advancing the human resources profession. I have authored two books, The Art of Executive Coaching and Stress-less Leadership, and maintain a regular blog. I am also a leading contributor for The Society For Human Resources Management, Entrepreneur Magazine, and The Association of Talent Development.
As an active animal advocate, I donate 100% of all book proceeds to animal welfare.
The opinions in this article are my own, and do not reflect those of my publishers or employers.