It is an age-old dilemma. There is tremendous energy and collaboration that happens in a group environment, but interactive offices make it really tough to get your actual work done. Successful employees (at all levels) have to master the balance between connection and productivity when on the job. Here are some tips to get it right in 2016.
1. Learn (and use) "911" versus "411." Vibrant companies know that it is useful to foster an environment with easy access to information without a lot of bureaucracy and formality. More seasoned employees are often the best source of this knowledge -- so it makes sense that the best and brightest staff members are used as real-life Google at work. However, if you are playing sage for your colleagues all day, you have little time to actually solve the business problems for which you were hired. That is where understanding "911" versus "411" is critical.
Hold yourself and those around you to the idea that if something is urgent -- business will be lost, damages may occur or someone will no longer be productive if this isn't addressed immediately -- it is a "911" and merits an interruption. However, if something is less pressing, or a "411," which is the number you would dial to get information pre-Google, those things can be saved up until there is a break in workflow. Adhering to this standard for interruptions will give you back protected time to focus on more pressing tasks. It will also train those employees who interrupt all the time to be more resourceful in finding answers and encourages everyone to plan their time more thoughtfully.
2. Minimize unnecessary distractions. Does the following describe you at work? You start to look up something professionally related online, and the next thing you know you are engrossed in a YouTube video from yesterday's "Kocktails with Khloe." Or you are just about to finish up a proposal, and you get caught up in your colleagues' conversation regarding how their paid time off hasn't showed up in their paycheck for the third time. Instead of completing the proposal before lunch, you find yourself giving a tutorial on how to use your company's intranet to see benefits tracking and previous pay stubs. In short, distractions happen on both a small and large scale to most of us throughout the day.
To avoid distractions at work, block out the noise -- literally. Wear headphones, provided you are not seated at a desk where clients may come in or in a role where headphones are not appropriate. Wearing headphones, even with no music on, limits what you can hear and who will approach you. Others are less likely to disturb you unless they feel something is very time sensitive. If listening to music increases your concentration, wearing headphones and listening to music has an even greater value. If you have the option to close your office door, that works, too.
3. Write down the things you need to accomplish for the day. Too often people just assume that if they thought about something, then they will focus on it. Actually writing something down helps you to achieve it. Your list of what you want to accomplish is like a map to get to your destination. When you are focused on your map, you are less available to respond to distractions. To accomplish the most at work, be the CEO of your time. Just as business leaders are expected to have a business plan for their company, you should have a plan for your day as well.
4. Review your efforts and re-prioritize. We often spend our time on what is in front of us although it may not be strategic or career-enhancing. It is just obvious and very present. When you review your goals for the day and evaluate your efforts, you have no choice but to see if you are expending effort on the things that are critical and most valuable or losing time to less meaningful distractions. None of us would invest money in a publicly traded stock with a CEO who loses the company money but keeps a very organized supply closet. A CEO's top priority is to increase the company's value for shareholders. Organized supply closets, while great to look at, are not the best use of an executive's talents. This is why no analyst or prospectus has ever lauded an executive's power of supply organization.
Far-fetched example? Yes, but the same is true for each of us at work. You have been hired to solve specific business problems. Each day, make sure you plan to prioritize things related to the business issues your role was designed to address. At the end of each day, check your work. Did you accomplish your goals and enhance your career or did you use the majority of the day reacting to other people's priorities? When you take ownership of your time, minimize distractions and take an honest look at your performance, you will be in great shape for professional success in 2016.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.
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