There might not be a connection between these two things, but productivity in the UK is lower than most other top economies, AND the UK is the part of the world with one of the greatest amounts of Internet activity per head. Indeed, since we have started using the Internet – and social media in particular – the UK’s productivity has flatlined. Other countries, where Internet activity is less intense, have seen rises in productivity, overtaking the UK. Also, we are a service-based economy with more people in offices sitting in front of Internet-enabled computers than most other nations.
Could there be a connection with the online obsession of Brits and our lack of productivity?
OK, I know, just because two things appear connected, does not mean they are linked. But question your own day-to-day work. How many times do you get distracted by something online? More often than any of us might care to admit, I imagine.
You might search for something only to stumble across a website that you find interesting. It isn’t really what you were looking for, but, hey, it will only be a minute or two to take a look. Fifteen minutes later, you return to your original task. Whoops…!
Then, you might get an email notification about some activity on Facebook, and you think, “I’ll just take a quick look”. But while you are over on Facebook you also take a “quick look” at something else and a few other things that attract your attention. Fifteen minutes later you return to your original task. Whoops…!
Or you could be busy writing a report for a client when you think it needs just a couple of references to back up what you are saying. So, you head off around the web looking for suitable material to substantiate what you are saying, only to discover some other interesting things along the way which give you an idea for a blog post, so you start thinking about that. Fifteen minutes later you return to your original task. Whoops…!
Several studies show that we are distracted by the online world far more than we realise. And that’s before we even consider the distraction of email, which is taking up three hours a day for most office workers and a further one hour in “attention shift” – the time needed to get your mind back into gear having been distracted.
Plus there is the almost addictive nature of many aspects of the online world. One in five people cannot go more than an hour without checking their Facebook account, according to one study. For a small business with ten staff, for example, two of them are on Facebook every hour, spending several minutes “topping up” their social media desire. For a company with thousands of staff, this simple issue is costing hundreds of hours of lost productivity every single day. Indeed, one study has shown that there is a 13% drop in office productivity because of social media.
Other research shows that the typical office worker only works for 15 minutes before becoming distracted. Furthermore, 53% of people admit to wasting an hour a day on futile fumblings around the Internet. And that’s the people who admit to it.
What’s clear is that the online world is a huge distraction. You can say that you try to avoid the distractions but actually what people say they do and what they actually do are often very different things. For instance, people say that checking an email notification “only takes a minute or two”, but research shows it is an average of 23-minutes before people get back to work after looking at an email.
Ten tips to prevent yourself being distracted
You cannot avoid many of the distractions. Using the Internet is going to provide you with distractions. But there are things you can do to manage or minimise the impact of potential distractions.
1. Switch off all notifications. You don’t need to be alerted about every email that has arrived, or of every message in the various services you use, or the fact that someone has just looked at your website. Notifications are only there because computer programmers can make them. They serve no useful purpose in the vast majority of business situations. I admit there are some instances where notifications are essential or highly useful, but that’s not for most offices.
2. Get RescueTime. This is an online service that sits in the background on your computer, your tablet or your phone. It logs all the activities you are doing and works out how productive you are being. Each week, look at the reports and see how much time you are spending on certain websites or online activities. Knowing the extent of your distraction is important information in helping to solve the issue.
3. Disable pop-ups. Go to your browser settings and make sure that pop-ups are switched off. That way you will be disturbed fewer times than necessary. Some pop-ups will still get through as they use technology the browsers cannot block. But by enabling the block, you will get fewer distractions.
4. Get an ad-blocker. There are plenty of plugins for browsers which block advertisements. They are a boon to productivity because they remove another source of distraction.
5. Have a daily plan. A to-do list is not enough; all that does is give you a list of things you need to accomplish or would like to do. Instead, turn that to-do list into a timetable. Studies repeatedly show that people who have a focus for each hour of the day are more productive and less distracted. The reason why many people are prone to distractions is that their lack of a timetable allows that to happen.
6. Get strict with emails. Deal with emails once or twice a day. Emails do not need an instant response in most cases. True, there are some situations where emails do need rapid action, but those cases are few and far between. Most emails you get are not time dependent, so don’t let them rule your time. Again, several studies show that people who only deal with emails once per day are more productive than those who constantly check messages.
7. Take regular breaks. Accepting distractions is often because you have spent too much time focusing on one thing. Your brain needs variety to keep it functioning at peak performance. If you spend ages sitting at the computer, concentrating all the time on writing that report, or producing a blog, or analysing some figures, your brain eventually goes “I’ve had enough of this” and becomes amenable to anything that changes your focus. If you take regular breaks from work – every 20 minutes or so – your brain gets the time it needs to consolidate what you have been doing and is, therefore, less likely to be distracted. You might like to try using the Pomodoro Technique.
8. Meditate and use mindfulness. Another reason why people are easily distracted is that they jump from one thing to another due to a rather unsettled mind. Distractions are easy to accept when your mind is not calm and focused. If you find that you are prone to distraction, mindfulness or meditation can help by making your mind more peaceful and less likely to accept those distracting irritations. To gain guidance on that you could sign up with Calm.
9. Set up a social media management plan. Unless you work in social media, there is no need to regularly check what is happening on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. You only need to check once or twice a day. Use social media management tools like HootSuite, so that you can be efficient and monitor things quickly. Then, set a time each day which is your social media time. You only need 20-30 minutes a day to accomplish everything you need with social media. But if you are distracted throughout the day by social media, you are not efficient with social networks themselves, nor are you effective with your time. Having a set routine ensures you are efficient and effective. Plus your brain no longer has to worry by thinking “I don’t know when I’ll get my next fix of social media, so I’d better take a look now”. Once you have an established routine, you are no longer easily distracted by social media because your brain knows when you will get your fix.
10. Get your five a day. One of the reasons many people get easily distracted online is because of poor regulation of body sugar. Large numbers of individuals skip breakfast and then gorge themselves at lunchtime. But snacking on fruit throughout the day will help regulate your body’s chemistry. When your body has erratic changes in blood sugar levels, your mind fogs up. You can’t concentrate properly, and your mind is easily distracted. Healthy eating helps your brain avoid distractions.
There you have it – ten tips to help you prevent yourself from being distracted. Are you going to use them, or has some notification just popped up on your screen which means you’ll “have to” deal with that, instead of implementing anything from this week’s newsletter?
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+