Is the Technology Vampire Sucking Productivity Out of Your Business?


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Contractors already know, when productivity slides, so do profits. What they may not realize is, all those wonderful gadgets which keep you connected 24/7 may be part of your personal and business productivity drain.

Many employers have reacted to the promise of greater technology efficiency — or tighter profit margins — by cutting staff. This strategy might look good on paper, but it may also create new problems by trying to spread the same workload over fewer employees. A better response, according to one expert, is to look for the factors that impede productivity, then attack them.

The Short Leash of Constant Communication

Geraldine Markel, PhD is an educational psychology who is called in by businesses and individuals when productivity is a problem due to distracted workers. Key among those distractions is our over-reliance on technology, advises Markel.

Technology “invites you to get lost in a maze of texting, chatting, surfing, and gaming long after the time spent is appropriate or useful.” As a leading authority on workplace distraction, she has noticed very few employers make the connection between distracted workers (or distracted bosses) and productivity. If they did, more workplaces would have written policies to monitor the use of these devices.

“A worker’s mind wanders about one-third of the workday,” said Markel, and much of that is triggered by interruptions –a call, a text, an e-mail. A non-urgent call may last only a minute, but it takes more minutes to get back on track, especially if a task requires concentration. Multiply that one call by your workforce, several times a day. That’s a serious drain on productivity.

Multi-Tasking is Not a Virtue

These days we call it “multi-tasking,” to talk, text, do our banking, and listen to music at all once. Some experts say it leads to “constant partial attention.” Again, it sounds good on paper, but what it really means is, nothing gets our full attention.

In her book Defeating the 8 Demons of Distraction, Markel reminds us we generally use only 10% of our brain capacity. But we still have reservoirs of attention we can tap. We have the ability to concentrate, to think better, and produce more. But to do that, we have to take ourselves off the short leash of 24/7 accessibility, at least for periods of time.

It’s Not Just Employees

As the boss, you can take all the calls you want. But imagine the freedom of telling your workforce you will be unavailable for the next 30 minutes. “Non-urgent questions will have to wait till 3pm. Better yet, use some initiative and find answers for yourselves,” you might say. Turn off your phone and your e-mail and allow yourself to concentrate. Markel calls this an “electronic lockdown.”

Many executives underperform as leaders because other people expect 24/7 access to the boss. The same goes for family and friends. Chances are, if you limit that access for periods of time, the wheels of commerce will still turn, the world will still spin on its axis, and maybe others will learn to solve minor issues on their own.

Multi-Pronged Attack

Markel advises clients to address distraction from various angles. Here are some techniques she recommends, to reduce technology distractions, permit concentration, and improve productivity.

1. Develop a policy limiting the use of mobile devices at work, spelling out what is acceptable, and when. Also decide if you will allow employees to view social media on your computers.

2. For work-related messages, instruct staff to set aside specific times to answer non-urgent e-mails rather than interrupting work to answer messages as they pop in. For example: wait till the last five minutes of the hour to respond.

3. Put your policy in writing and make it part of your employee handbook. Require employees to read and sign it, indicating they understand, including the consequences of violating your policy. Remember, if it’s not in writing, the policy doesn’t exist.

4. Practice what you preach. It will set the right example and free you up to do what you do best, that is, use your brainpower to lead a profitable operation.

5. Set aside “think time.” This means quiet minutes in the morning to prioritize your day, when all technology not essential to the task are turned off. At the end of the day, schedule more think time to review accomplishments. What went well? What could’ve gone better? Encourage your employees to do the same. Here’s an illustration of how think time works.

Consider all those times you could not remember that important name or detail when you needed it. Then it came to you … in the shower, or walking to your car quietly, or as you lay down to sleep. No phones ringing, no texts, no TV blasting. Just think time. And in pops the answer you struggled to find.

None of us is a victim of technology overload, said Markel. “It’s all about engaging in self-regulation on a conscious and systematic basis. We’ve got more control than we realize. We have to create a culture which rewards focus and productivity, rather than constant partial attention.”

Technology is wonderful, but our over-reliance on it has put us all on short leashes. Increase your ability to concentrate, and watch your productivity and your profits – personal and business – rise to new levels.

Teresa Ambord

Posted In: Management, Technology

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