Workplace Distractions: Pleasantries vs. Productivity

For most young professionals, 24 hours isn’t enough time in a day to get everything accomplished and have the luxury of a 7-hour sleep. The workday never stops, with constant emails, meetings, deadlines and everything in between. YPs understand the importance of being strategic with time, finding ways to multi-task and making the most of every precious hour. So when we’re in “the zone,” in the middle of a deadline, headphones on, iPod playing our favourites, and that co-worker snaps us out with a tap on the shoulder, the last thing we need is to sit there watching the minutes creep by on the clock as she shows us what seems like 600 pictures of her newborn niece. It’s not that we don’t like her, or babies for that matter, but please stop talking and leave.

How do you manage your need for productivity in a nice way without ruining relationships, causing tension or hurting feelings? Frustrations arise when productivity is lost because of time wasted. And why wouldn’t they? Workplace distractions could add up to as many as 2.1 hours of lost productivity per day. Much like a failing relationship, we must communicate to coworkers, clients and our personal circle that it isn’t them – just bad timing.

If you want to say ‘hi’ to fellow coworkers during the workday, make it short and sweet and never assume that they are free. A good example of a pleasant workday interruption occurred at the Notable office last week, when a member of the Notable team uncharacteristically donned a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. A coworker, passing by her office, stuck his head in and asked her if she had lost a bet (not that we don’t love the Leafs), to which they exchanged a few sentences of witty banter, before he went on his merry way down the hall. But that is quite different than the coworker who rambles on for half an hour about last night’s Grey’s Anatomy, her boyfriend who broke up with her (again), or to vent about an annoying work project. Equally as annoying are the workplace peers who seem to have nothing to do or are too lazy to walk to your desk but won’t leave you alone on instant messaging forums and/or Facebook and expect the same interaction to occur.

Workplace distractions can apply to clients and suppliers, as well as coworkers, and must be approached with caution, especially for the young entrepreneur when relationships are so important. One Toronto YE, a dentist, expressed a frequent dilemma. He has developed relationships with his loyal roster of patients and they often like to stay around and chat after appointments. While usually a welcomed conversation, unless they were his last patient of the day, he had others waiting. Another YE with her own public relations firm used to find it difficult to end meetings with clients or to get off the phone with them. “I started to realize that being so busy was a good thing for them,” she says. “I don’t want my clients to feel as though I don’t have enough time for them, but it also shows them that I am dedicated to my work and projects on hand if I cut the interaction to attend to other work.”

Another workplace distraction on account of others comes from friends and family. We’ve all had that significant other, friend, or family member who doesn’t quite understand their frequent texts, calls or emails throughout the workday are more annoying than inviting. BlackBerry Messenger is the worst for this, as we have lately discovered ourselves. Fellow BBM friends expect increased accessibility, an instant response, and prolonged banter as opposed to a simple and to-the-point text message.

We have compiled some tips to help young professionals manage the distractions of others:

1. If a coworker requests a few moments of your time (a better option than simply assuming you’re free), either for a word of advice, to brainstorm or to gossip, put a definite limit on your time with a response like “sure, I have about 8 minutes before I have to jump back on this conference call.”

2. If a junior continuously asks for help to the point where it is affecting your own work, arrange a specific time to sit down with him or her either before or after work and ensure that they make detailed notes. 

3. When coworkers walk by and ask how you are during a busy time, say “I’m good, just in the zone, getting a lot done today,” or “I’m good, just on an annoying deadline, though.” Never give any information that will allow for them to ask more questions.

4. When a coworker inquires about your vacation or the shower stag or stagette you through over the weekend, reply with “it was great, we should have drinks after work one day this week and I will tell you all about it!”

5. Be consistent with co-workers; keep all social and otherwise non work-related banter in the sushi restaurant down the street or at the bar after work. 

6. Tune the world out. Shut your door, if you have the luxury. Wear a headset or headphones while working and keep your focus straight ahead on your computer, avoiding all potential for eye contact. Your coworkers will get the message from your body language.

7. Turn personal communication devices on silent, put BBM statuses as “busy,” and make outgoing calls on your break. Your contacts will get the message (no pun intended) when their messages sit in “D” until the lunch hour or end of the day.

8. Reserve all non work-related Facebook activity for the evenings and weekends. Even taking the time to “like” one picture while quickly eating lunch at your desk may give the impression to clients, friends and coworkers that you are not as busy as you actually are. 

9. For the young entrepreneur, remember not to be afraid to tell clients that you must cut a chat or meeting short because of other meetings or work. Clients would rather know you are busy and working than not. With that said, always remember little things happening in the lives of clients so that you may ask them about them the next time.

10. In general, we believe that communication is the best tactic. If you are close enough with co-workers, friends and clients, then you should be able to have open communication with them and be able to let them know when you don’t want to be distracted.