Small Business: Addressing productivity killers

Workplace distractions like social media and texting can

Workplace distractions like social media and texting can put a strain on productivity, but there are ways to control them, experts advise. (Credit: iStock)

Jamie Herzlich

Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

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Ever look up and see one of your employees texting or chatting on his cellphone when he should be working?

If the answer's yes, you're certainly not alone.

One in five workers admitted that during a typical workday he or she spends at least an hour on personal calls, emails or texts, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey on the top productivity killers at work.

"While technology has increased efficiencies and made it easier for workers to stay connected to the office, that same technology also allows them to stay connected to their social circles and all other digital distractions," says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at Chicago-based CareerBuilder.

Although you can't totally avoid workplace distractions, too many can "put a serious dent into productivity, which can, in turn, impact revenue and client relationships," she says.

That's why it's important to recognize some of these top productivity killers.

Topping this year's list as cited by employers were:

Cellphone use and texting

Gossiping

Internet surfing

Using social media

Taking snack or smoke breaks

Rounding out that list were noisy co-workers, meetings, email, co-workers dropping by and co-workers putting calls on speaker phone.

So what's the best way to deal with such distractions?

It starts with "solving the foundation of the problem," says Barbara DeMatteo, director of human resources consulting for Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates, an HR consulting firm in Syosset.

Figure out what's driving the distractions, she says. For instance, look at how managers' behavior impacts productivity and profitability. Is one manager undermining another in assigning work? Are there clear responsibilities and expectations? A positive work environment, with consistent messages and opportunities for success?

Set goals with accountability. Companies should develop a culture focused around goal setting with more accountability, which will lead to higher productivity, notes Liz Bentley, president of Liz Bentley Associates, a Cold Spring Harbor-based organizational development and executive coaching firm.

"Train your employees to be accountable," she says. If they're pushing toward a bigger goal, they'll be more resistant to the time wasters and distractions.

Of course, you could try eliminating some distractions by restricting cellphone usage and social media, but that doesn't always solve the problem.

"There's always going to be new time-wasters coming up," says Bentley. "So you have to be in control of the organization's culture and priorities and expectations for your employees."

Plus, realistically it's hard to completely eliminate some of these distractions, except in cases where they endanger workers (such as texting while operating machinery), notes DeMatteo.

Lessen distractions. This is doable. For instance, instead of having lengthy meetings, stick to an agenda and shave five to 10 minutes off the end time, suggests Cathy Sexton, owner of The Productivity Experts, a St. Louis-based consulting firm.

"Those minutes start adding up," she notes.

Consolidate. Dealing with interruptions from co-workers is another big time-sucker. Sexton recommends creating a folder for people you interact with a lot; when you need to talk to them, stick the questions or topics to discuss in the folder as a reminder. Do that throughout the day or week and then go to the person with all the issues you need to address at one time instead of interrupting them multiple times daily, says Sexton.

Often, "we interrupt other people for questions that could wait," she says.