What’s been distracting you today? The relentless ping of emails arriving in your inbox? A constantly-ringing telephone? Or maybe working from home has made it difficult to separate your work and non-work life?

Research carried out by Totaljobs found that on average, workers in the UK spend 1 hour 24 minutes of the working day being unproductive, costing British businesses £143 billion each year. Perhaps more worrying, was that the same research also discovered that 1 in 10 employees admitted to being unproductive for over four hours each day at work.

office employee

So, what’s causing this drain on productivity? According to Totaljobs, coffee and tea breaks, talking, boredom, excessive meetings and excessive emails are the biggest culprits. Interestingly, data from the ONS revealed that individuals felt there were fewer distractions when working at home compared with in the office: but not for everyone. Younger workers were the only group that felt they had more distractions when working from home.

Ditching the distractions

Lost productivity is an issue that HR professionals can’t ignore – both from a personal perspective and in terms of supporting employees in being as productive as possible. Also, given that the UK continues to lag behind other G7 countries in the productivity stakes, it’s in every organisations interests to help tackle poor productivity.

As an HR person, there’s a lot you can do to help in solving productivity problems in the workplace.

Taking the lead has other benefits as well. It could let you demonstrate the bottom-line business value of your department, including its ability to meet tough goals and rigid deadlines. Additionally, you’ll be best placed to help employees manage their own performances with the right tools and techniques to manage their time more effectively. This can help them to make the most of their day and achieve those all-important business goals – regardless of where or when they complete their duties.

In HR it is almost impossible not to get distracted from time to time. There are so many calls on your time, that finding the best way to juggle all your responsibilities and stay productive can be a big challenge. To keep you focused even through the most challenging workloads, we’ve put together some quick-fire advice on how to work smarter, break bad habits and boost your own personal productivity. It’s not always about making huge changes – even small steps can lead to improvements in the way you spend your time. And once you start to see the results of more focused activity, you will be encouraged to keep taking those steps to get even better outcomes!

Identify the leaks

Take a step back and think about what exactly robs your time and stops you achieving your daily goals. If you’re in an office, is it people barging into your space for unscheduled discussions? Or maybe it’s a constant stream of emails, texts and instant messages, that is making it difficult for you to concentrate?

If you can identify where the leaks in your time management are, you can start to put steps in place to combat them.

Stop multi-tasking

We’ve been led to believe that the ability to juggle numerous balls at once is a positive thing. But the truth is, multi-tasking is not a productive approach – it means you are spending energy and brain power spiralling off in different directions instead of focussing on doing one thing well. The latest research and thinking suggests that highly productive people only work on one task at a time.

Tackle the big stuff first

How often have you looked at your to-do list and picked off the quickest and easiest things to do first? Then, before you know it, it’s late in the day and you haven’t even started the biggest task with the most pressing deadline.

It’s human nature to want to go for the low-hanging fruit and gain the satisfaction of ticking lots of tasks off the list, but it’s not productive if the jobs you are doing are not the most important ones. So, look to tackle the biggest tasks first when you have the most energy and focus.

Block time out

You wouldn’t think twice about blocking time out for a meeting in your diary – but how often do you block time out to work on a particular project or task? The truth is that if you allocate time in your calendar to work on something specific you are much more likely to get it done than if you just add it to your to do list. Working in blocks of time can also be helpful.

Try setting an alarm on your phone for 50 minutes. Then, turn off your email or anything else likely to distract you and focus on that piece of work you really need to get done.

If you’re in an open-plan office, why not see if there’s a more private or quieter place you can work for a few hours without distractions, such as a meeting room? The same applies if you are working from home and have to share a space with others, or have flatmates, partners or children dropping in and out during the working day. Make the rules clear and negotiate time when you can be alone so you can shut out any distractions.

When the alarm goes off, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve managed to achieve. Set it again for a further 10 minutes to get you across (or at least nearer to) the finishing line on that particular project.

Keep work life and home life separate

It can be tempting to have a peek at your mobile to see what’s happening on any one of the myriad of social platforms. But social media and mobile devices can be productivity kryptonite: especially when you consider that people spend an average of 4.8 hours a day on their mobile phones!

Save social media apps for the evening once you’ve logged out of work for the day.

Have a productivity plan

To-do lists are a helpful guide in terms of remembering what it is you must do, but the problem is they get longer and longer as the day goes on. Everything that’s left undone then just gets transferred over to the next day, leaving you still feeling overwhelmed and demotivated.

Aim to narrow down to the most important things you absolutely must do the next day in order to move a project forward. Also, identify the people you really have to make contact with. Complete one of these at the end of each day and make it the first thing you pick up when you hit your desk the next morning.

Make sure you focus on those priorities before you even open your inbox so that you don’t get swept away on a tide of other, less crucial activities.

Don’t forget to take a break

Lastly, don’t forget to have a break once in a while – especially if you’re tackling a complex piece of work or data-heavy report. Taking a breather can be very beneficial for you and your work, giving you a chance to clear your head and re-focus.

Micro-breaks, lunchtime breaks and longer breaks have all been shown to have a positive relationship to wellbeing and productivity. Some of the benefits include improved memory, a reduction in stress levels and boosted creativity. So, whilst stopping work may feel counterintuitive, it can be vital to improving your own productivity.

Try just a few of these tips and you will soon find your productivity starting to increase. To improve your motivation still further, reward yourself with something you really enjoy when you have successfully completed a project or task in the best way possible. A cup of coffee and a chocolate biscuit usually works for me!

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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