Leadership Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What’s your best advice for staying productive at work? is written by Brian Shapland, general manager of Turnstone.
Email notifications. Buzzing phones. The sound of your coworker munching on lunch. Chances are that by the time you finish reading this article—if you even get that far—at least one of these distractions will have derailed your thoughts; threatening deadlines, work quality and overall productivity.
In his book Your Brain at Work, author David Rock says that the average office worker is interrupted every three minutes, and recovering from this disconnect is costly. In fact, it takes us an average of 23 minutes to fully return to a task after an interruption. That said, discoveries in neuroscience also confirm what we’ve always known: our brains aren’t wired to concentrate intensely for eight hours straight. They get tired! Our minds work in cycles of activity and downtime designed to keep us alert and responsive to our surroundings. But harnessing those cycles to promote productivity proves challenging.
So how can we balance the onslaught of incoming information and the temptation to multitask with the reality of brain science? What can we do to maximize our productivity in the office?
Too much information stalls productivity
According to research by psychiatrist and author Edward M. Hallowell, “Never in history has the human brain been asked to track so many data points.” That’s why responding immediately to a text or email only increases stress and frustration while decreasing effectiveness. Instead, schedule specific times throughout the day to check email. Additionally, find ways to display key information for easy reference. Posting data on nearby whiteboards or magnetic privacy screens means you won’t find yourself sifting through documents unnecessarily, a venture that always consumes more time than you anticipate.
You can literally retrain your brain’s ability to focus. Mindfulness, the practice of keeping your thoughts attuned to the here and now, has been shown to combat the “continuous partial attention” as Linda Stone first talked about 20 years ago. In our office, for example, music energizes our team and creates a fun vibe, but many of us need moments of respite, too. That’s why we’ve created spaces that let us 'get away without going away' so our minds are better able to function. Our employees regularly seek out private enclaves or physically separated lounge settings for high-focus tasks. Both of these options support solo work and send a subtle “do not disturb” message to the rest of the team.
Get up and move
The science of movement and its effect on the brain has been well documented, yet turnstone research shows that only 22% of entrepreneurs say their workers feel encouraged to pursue healthy choices during the day. Designing office floor plans that require movement—and then modeling active behavior for your team—are important starting points.
Take notes by hand
Research from Indiana University shows that neural activity spikes when we put pen to paper. So embrace your old-school ways and ditch digital note taking. For example, we display key performance indicators and marketing messages to keep information transparent, communicate progress and brainstorm off previous ideas. This helps us visualize what we’ve already accomplished and what we hope to accomplish in the future.
Get your head in the cloud
Regardless of which cloud-based document storage tool you use, get familiar with one and leverage the convenience it offers. Our teams rely heavily on this for real-time communication and for constant updates to project folders, eliminating the back-and-forth of various versions of the same article, spreadsheet or slide deck. The time that’s saved is matched only by the number of emails you’ll save when you use the cloud.
It’s hard to focus on anything when you’re trying to be someone—or something—you’re not. That’s why so many offices are embracing the authenticity of startup culture, where 9 out of 10 people identify culture as incredibly important to employee productivity, creativity and job satisfaction. For us, that means bringing in pictures of friends and family, sharing personal and professional victories during our weekly stand-up meetings, and acknowledging that we all work in different ways.
Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What’s your best advice for staying productive at work?
How can I increase my productivity at work? by David Reese, vice president of people and culture at Medallia.
How planning your day is actually making you less productive by William Craig, founder and president of WebpageFX.
The real reason you can’t focus at work by Sandhya Venkatachalam, co-founder and partner of Centerview Capital.
Want to be more productive? Start understanding your brain by Ryan Smith, CEO and founder of Qualtrics.
3 ways to stay productive while working remotely by Jeff Rodman, co-founder of Polycom.
This CEO says you should work less to be more productive by Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge.
The biggest career lesson this Navy SEAL learned in Iraq by Chris Fussell, chief growth officer at McChrystal Group.
Here’s how to keep your employees happy (and productive)by Michael Keoni DeFranco, founder and CEO of Lua.
9 things you can do every day to be more productive by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.
How managers are killing the productivity of their employees by Todd McKinnon, co-founder and CEO of Okta.
Warby Parker’s Co-CEO: Why it’s okay to say ‘no’ to your boss by Dave Gilboa, co-CEO of Warby Parker.