You’re trying to finish a project that’s due by the end of the day. Your supervisor calls and wants you to check on the status of another group’s project.
Your mind has to switch gears and although this interruption may only take a few minutes, finding the momentum, the exact “place” you were in your thought processes on the project you were working on may take as long as 30 minutes. Not only that, but the interruption may also impact the quality of your work. Interruptions are a fact of life. We have come to expect them. But having your thought process interrupted while working is like leaving a television show mid-point and coming back to it in a few hours. You need to rewind to remind yourself of what was happening so the rest of the show makes sense.
How Collaboration Can Impede Flow and Reduce Productivity
An increasing number of work environments encourage or even require collaboration. Studies show that the more people there are involved in a project, the less shared responsibility and productivity. Anyone who remembers group projects from their high school years knows that in a group of four or five, one or two people did the bulk of the work.
One way to combat wasted time during collaborative work is to provide each team member or pair of members a specific task with a hard deadline. To ensure that each part of the project is progressing toward its deadline, team leaders can use check-ins and status reports to keep team members accountable for their time.
Screen Time and Brain Drain
Another source of interruptions that break the flow of concentration and productivity is non-work related screen time. Checking social media, the news, even playing games, such as Lumosity, designed to increase mental energy, are often drains on our mental energy and time. Some people even find it more difficult to resume a task after spending even a few minutes checking their social media, so limit your screen time at work to periods when you’re taking a defined break like during a meal break.
Strategies to Help You Stay Focused
You can take proactive steps to reduce the number of interruptions you face and improve your focus so you’re more productive, including:
- Block off focus time on your work calendar. Request all non-emergency calls be sent to voicemail.
- Request that co-workers send an email for issues that aren’t an emergency rather than stopping by to talk to you.
- Flag emails and set up task lists with alert notifications.
- If your office has a door, close it during times when y ou need uninterrupted focus.
- If you work in a cubicle listen to ambient noise through earphones to block distractions.
- Turn off notifications on your phone or use the Do Not Disturb setting during tasks that require your full attention and concentration.
- Take scheduled self-care breaks like meditating, deep breathing, or a short walk outside if possible to recharge your energy and focus. Can’t take a walk outdoors? Open a window or door and breathe in fresh air.
- Use a diffuser with essential oils that promote mental energy and focus, like peppermint, rosemary, or lemon.
- Take off your shoes and flex your feet and legs or take stand breaks. Standing once every 15-20 minutes increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain and throughout the body.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water, tea, or other clear, non-carbonated liquids.
- Reduce sugar and high carb foods. Instead, snack on protein and low sugar fruits throughout the day, which provide sustained energy.