Managing productivity in a time of distraction

We know distraction impacts productivity — and it happens way more often than you’d think.

A University of California - Irvine study followed a group of knowledge workers over a period of days and measured how they spent their time in detail. They found that workers tended to switch tasks after only three minutes and five seconds—and it took them over 23 minutes to get back to a task after getting distracted.

Sometimes workers are self-distracting (hi, social media), but oftentimes, the interruptions come courtesy of coworkers who are looking for help, whether in the form of a Slack ping or email message.

It’s important to give your engineers time and space to work—without locking them out entirely and making them feel isolated.

To that end, enable them to set their own hours and set up the best work environment for themselves—if they’re able to concentrate best in a block of time from 10PM to 1AM, don’t insist that they log on at 8:30 in the morning. They should be able to create an environment that helps them focus, so even when in the office, let them wear headphones if they prefer, so they aren’t surrounded by background noise and can give a visual cue that they’re in do-not-disturb mode.

To strike the right balance between work focus and team collaboration, it’s important to build a structure that enables your team members to interact and share wisdom on their own time. Instead of rushing to ask an urgent question in real-time, engineers should be encouraged to submit their questions to a transparent online Q&A forum, where their peers will be able to share their insights when they decide to step away from the code they’re working on.

Additionally, teammates can collaborate through live meetings, video conferences, and chat platforms such as Slack—but make sure that your engineers know that they’re welcome to set their Slack channel to “away” at any time they’re focused on a task, and that meetings are based on pre-set scheduled times, rather than ad-hoc.

By giving your engineers the ability to carefully manage their own workload and decide when they’re open to real-time communication rather than letting others pull them away from their work, you’ll be able to maximize your team’s productivity and get through release cycles faster.

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