by Maura Nevel Thomas for the Austin Technology Council
You want to be the kind of leader that leaves a legacy of positive impact. You want to lead an exceptional team so you can power your organization’s success and unleash the hidden potential in every team member – including yourself!
But there’s something getting in your way. It’s a big problem facing your busy team and your organization, costing millions in time and money. But that problem is often overlooked because at all levels of the organization, it’s treated as an unavoidable aspect of modern work. The problem is distraction. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, and multitasking at work seems to be the only way to get anything done. Distraction is prevalent in every corner of business operations, sabotaging performance and increasing costs.
But I prove with my clients every day that this problem is not unavoidable. My latest book, EVERYONE WANTS TO WORK HERE: Attract the Best Talent, Energize Your Team, and Be the Leader in Your Market, builds on my work in attention management, sharing how to apply the concept not only to individual work, but to solve the problem of distraction in company culture and operations. Here are seven ways distraction is holding your company back:
- Distraction increases mistakes, leading to longer timelines and higher costs.
- Distraction sabotages the performance of knowledge work, interfering with team members’ ability to do the most important task they were hired to do: think.
- Distraction causes businesses to compete on speed (fast delivery, fast response times, fast turnarounds), which is a race to the bottom. This prevents companies from maximizing their unique advantages, which would set them above their competitors, create the space to be innovative, and allow them to charge a premium. Competing on speed also prevents the team’s ability to make progress in meaningful work—the most important factor in keeping them motivated and engaged.
- Distraction drags leaders into the day-to-day minutiae, undermining their ability to focus on improving business operations at a higher level, which leaves this higher-level work largely undone.
- Distraction creates a culture of urgency where team members feel compelled to constantly monitor communication, leaving them unable to prioritize or complete their most important tasks.
- Distraction is the reason busy professionals spend their days being entirely reactive, losing the opportunity to be proactive, which is devastating to productivity.
- Distraction makes everything take longer, leading to a need to overwork. This results in increased costs in burnout, absenteeism, turnover, and disengagement.
Think about the seven points above, and any other ways that distraction costs you and your organization, because awareness that distraction is such a big problem is the first big step to solving it.
Here’s one thing you can begin changing right away. You and your team likely use two computer monitors, sometimes because you need extra screen space in the service of one task, like comparing two documents. But the way most people use their two monitors most of the time is so that they can have “work” open on one screen, and communication (like email and chat), open on the other. Since everyone receives a message virtually every minute or two, this office setup virtually guarantees constant distraction.
Getting rid of one monitor and encouraging single-tasking is the easy part of the solution. The hard part is to question why everyone feels they need to constantly monitor communication in the first place. Part of the answer is that leaders don’t offer any guidelines about which tools are for time-sensitive communications, and which aren’t. So everyone uses all the different communication channels for both urgent and non-urgent communication. But if every email, chat, or DM you receive might be an emergency, then you are forced to treat them all like they are an emergency, checking every one as it arrives. This “culture of urgency” is a recipe for disaster because it prevents your employees’ opportunity to give sustained focus to their work, yet it’s how most companies operate.
“Distraction is an unavoidable component of modern work” is an unconscious belief that pervades organizations. And this belief is rooted in the unintentional behaviors of the leaders and the culture of the organization. But the successful leaders realize that it doesn’t have to be this way. EVERYONE WANTS TO WORK HERE helps people tackle the problem of distraction at all levels of the organization, leading to happier, more engaged, more productive employees, and making the organization more successful on virtually every metric. It creates a culture that attracts the best talent and energizes the team, ultimately powering the organization’s success to be the leader in its market.
****Maura Thomas is the leading expert on “Attention Management”. She will be speaking at the Austin Technology Council “Roundtable Breakfast on May 2, 2023. Register now to attend.