Distracted: Don’t let apps and e-mail kill your productivity

When discussing the impact of the Internet on the lives of American workers, Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain often quotes Sophocles: “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”

Despite all the business potential of the Internet, the Information Age has turned into the Age of Distraction. E-mail, social networks and instant messaging apps have become the source of near-constant interruptions. The average American worker handles 121 e-mails per day, checks their phone for e-mail and other posts 150 times a day, and spends 28 percent of each workday just handling electronic messages.

That deluge can make it nearly impossible to stay on track with work tasks or devote significant, focused time to priority projects. Studies warn it has caused business professionals’ attention spans to shorten to just seven minutes. Furthermore, workers who switch tasks due to digital distractions, can take 20-120 minutes to get back to their initial, core work.

So how can you combat those distractions and rebuild productivity?

Focus on meaningful work

More than ever, it is important to make sure workers have a clear vision of company mission and strategic goals, and how they can channel their unique abilities and prioritize their daily activities to advance that mission. Consider offering employees attention-management training to help them limit distractions and increase their ability to remain focused on a single task longer, stick to priority activities and generate higher quality results.

Schedule quality time

Julie Morgenstern, a productivity expert and author of “Never Check E-mail in the Morning,” recommends establishing a practice of setting aside at least an hour each morning for quiet, focused, priority work. Teams or individuals can set their own schedules for that quality time, and others know not to interrupt them for non-emergency issues.

Revive the concept of business hours

Everyone needs time to disconnect and recharge. Consider limiting e-mail usage to certain times of day and make sure employees understand they are not obliged to read or respond to e-mail outside of those hours. Furthermore, remind employees that the company has set work hours, follow them yourself, and make after-hours work the exception and not the rule.

It is possible to diminish the wave of frenetic, digital disruptions in our work days. Making that effort could provide you with a more focused, more productive and happier work force.