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October 30, 2019

How to Stay Focused at Work: Helping you succeed in the digital age


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How to stay focused at work? Here is the story of our decade:

A typical workday has started in a US-based firm. Employees have already walked into the office, and for the first 15-minutes, they will be having their morning talks over coffee before starting work. A few moments later, employees head to their work station to start the workday but an interesting Medium or WSJ article pulls them towards another 10-minute activity that is unrelated to work. 

Believe it or not, this is only one of the many illustrations that show how easy it has become for employees to lose themselves in the vast digital world of online and social media. According to Larry Rosen, in her book “iDisorder” the attention span of humans is decreasing with each year, we rarely find ourselves in a state of “focus”, as distractions - primarily by emails, texts, and social media - divert us every 3 to 5 minutes. 

So, are we going to answer the question “How to stay focused at work”? Of course, let’s dive in.

How to stay focused at work?

There are two styles of work that we have to differentiate between when looking at productivity:

  1. In-Office, and
  2. Remote 

Depending on the industry, one style of work may be of higher importance than the other. In certain industries, such as construction, consultancy, and health care, you may expect the majority of the value to be driven by remote workers; whereas, in accounting, insurance, or even high-tech, you want people the staff to be from the office. Considering the differences, we expect certain factors that influence the ability of employees to focus on their tasks to be different. However, human behavior has proven to be relatively similar in how it reacts to distractions - which will be the focus of this blog.

Increasing Focus while In-Office or Job Site


Similar to investing your money in a bank at a certain interest, employees invest time in a company in hopes of getting rewarded in the future. However, unlike the bank’s savings systems, where individuals have little influence over the rates of return, the abilities of employees to reap rewards within a company are highly dependent on their efforts.

Therefore, it is important for both employees and employers to create an organizational culture that promotes productivity and drives positive results for the company. 

To begin with, start thinking about the idea of work-flow and its implications regarding productivity.

Over the past 15 years, the great researchers at the Harvard Business Review have found that today’s organizations expect employees to perform in work environments characterized by multiple projects, shifting priorities, and time pressure. 

According to the same study, switching attention between tasks consumes time for employees and money for the organization. Furthermore, having to adjust to across different teams, job sites and positions requires energy to handle - all of which if not managed properly will have a negative impact on the personal development of the employee and growth of the organization.

Strategic sequencing between tasks


Strategic sequencing can be defined as the ability to efficiently manage multiple tasks within the day. Today, the challenge of attention residue is more prevalent than ever. As organizational cultures grow flexible and dependence on digital media increases, employees have a higher tendency to dive into Facebook chats or read articles about their favorite celebrity while in the workplace.

A US-based survey conducted by Branded Research Inc determined that 75% of Americans blamed digital media (i.e. notifications) for their procrastination and lack of focus at work.

As such, it is important for employees to understand that limited attention residue is one of the top five (5) reasons why they can’t stay focused at work. Luckily, modern technology provides us with efficient time management tools that can help guide our workdays.

One solution is time tracking, such as Atto. Over the past years, our developers have been working on retaining simplicity, while integrating advanced features designed to allow users to plan their workday, measure productivity and work transparently. On the other hand, we are also helping small businesses get all the information they need to carry out informed decisions day in and day out.

Dealing with workplace distractions


There are certain cases when the employees do everything in their power to remain focused on a task, yet the culture in which they are working does not support their efforts. Here is a hypothetical example:

The marketing team of a beverage company has devised an incredible campaign for a new innovative product that is expected to help the company gain market share from relevant competitors. Accordingly, you - a member of the marketing team have been assigned the task of writing the proposal which is going to be presented to decision-makers by the end of the week. Excited to have been given this opportunity, you start devoting your full attention to the task; however, every other hour, colleagues interrupted by asking questions or starting discussions unrelated to work. At first, this may not seem like a problem but the end of the week is approaching and you realize that the work you have done is far from the expected quality. Under time-pressure, you try to complete the project but the outcome is still lacking. 

Although specific, this example doesn’t stray too far from real-life scenarios, and it tries to illustrate how an organization’s culture can influence the productivity of an individual. Similar to what we discussed in the previous section, attention residue as a result of talkative co-workers, and noisy workplaces will lead to, among others poor quality work and delayed projects. Under such circumstances, it is important to communicate to management that the organizational culture is the cause of the problem. By doing so, you will have shifted the burden to management, and it is their responsibility to devise a strategy that promotes accountability, transparency, and productivity within the organization.

Determining the cause of the problem is the first step to solving it. Regardless if it is the result of the individual or culture, productivity stems from extended periods of focus, and frequent interruptions will have a negative impact on both, the individual and organization.

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