Many of the productivity tools we have used over the past decade to improve employee productivity have become distractions at work. Cal Newport’s book Deep Work got me thinking about the major obstacles to deep work in a corporate setting. I began to wonder. These detractors could be a hindrance to employee productivity if a training program is put in place for employees. “>
Distractions at Work
Open office floor plans were once a good idea. They were intended to encourage collaboration and cross-pollination among teams. They are now distracting and can cause disruption to dozens of people.
One thing I struggle with is leaving my email open. Because it often involves unresolved tasks or complaining people, checking your email can be psychologically dangerous. These issues can also seem more important if you check your emails often due to availability bias and recency bias.
Emails are enough distraction. You can have people interrupt your work and get help in seconds with tools such as Skype, Microsoft Teams and Slack. We become network routers instead of deep thinkers.
Obviously, instant communication is preferable to the more direct route. You can ask someone if you don’t have the answer. You don’t have to do all the work of planning ahead, analyzing what you know and scheduling meetings carefully.
Ironically, depending on how you found this blog post, you could be distracted by me. We encourage our sales team to use Facebook and LinkedIn for social selling. We are grateful for the ability to connect with customers on an individual level, and not feel like they are talking to a robot. Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social media apps allow for conversations to continue 24/7. If these media aren’t properly staffed, you could get stuck in an endless state of dialogue, or worse, be ghosted by the company you trust.
Workplace distractions can have devastating effects. While the new ideas may seem innovative and productive, they don’t bring you closer to the important things that matter most.
Productivity and its effects
These unplanned distractions are common in corporate settings. This is confusing because companies aren’t always smart. They will usually take action to stop something that is affecting productivity or profits. Companies support distractions such as open offices and real time messaging, but this seems to be the opposite.
Companies could be falling behind if they don’t look at real-time data and A/B test the effectiveness of productivity tools. This could also hinder employee development as they attempt to climb up the corporate ladder, but are being held back by workplace productivity killers.
How did these distracting and destructive distractions become so routinely accepted as the right thing?
Cal Newport explains: In the new information economy, there was a new management challenge: How to measure individual worker output. The output of a factory was quantitative and clear. You can produce as many widgets per hour as you like and be compared to other workers. Complex problems require a larger group of people with different roles in information jobs. It is no longer clear who contributes to what. People’s jobs become more vague and diffuse – a “marketing manager”, for example, could be doing many different things on different projects.
Managers had to look for superficial indicators of progress, such as email responses and meetings. People were productive as long as there was lots of motion! In contrast, deep work looks like slacking. It seems indulgent to step away from email and think deeply when everyone else is busy in the office.
There is also a technological imperative that “any technology will likely be good technology.” This makes it difficult to appear ahead of the curve in technology to potential employees, customers, and the press. This is why you adopt new tools such as Slack, social networking and open office plans without really considering their impact.
Companies would immediately switch if there was solid evidence that deep work is more valuable than shallow work. There isn’t. It’s still difficult to measure information work. People tend to gravitate towards the easiest things in the moment rather than doing the hard stuff.
This is why deep work can be so difficult and shallow work so common.