Productivity+: Turn Off Notifications and Stop Distractions

When I speak to lawyers about improving productivity, some of the best feedback I receive is how to stop distractions. Research has shown that every time a person is interrupted from a task, it takes some 20 minutes to return to it. Each interruption costs productivity and, if you bill by the hour, you lose the chance to docket “0.3”. Here are some common distractions and what you can do about it.

Turn off cell phone notifications

Every cell phone beep pulls you out of the task you’re working on. If you are in the office, chances are the notification is not work-related. Depending on your phone, you can turn off notifications globally or by adjusting the settings in the app. Facebook and Twitter are common culprits – there are notifications for virtually any activity that occurs on your account – new messages directly to you, messages that are liked or shared, and messages that have a new comment. If your cell phone chimes every time you receive an email, that can be a huge distraction as well. Turn them all off.

We use our phones constantly. A 2015 Deloitte study found that people check their phones 46 times a day. Make a conscious choice to avoid looking at the phone while you are working on tasks. When you’re done, take a break and go ahead and do a few fun things. Depending on your level of focus, a starting point would be to take a break every 45 minutes – about the average time a person can concentrate on a task before losing effectiveness.

And turn off email notifications

The biggest temptation on your work computer is to check email. Email can be highly productive – giving instructions, receiving updates, and communicating with clients and staff are all important tasks. But if you’re immersed in a factum or a letter to counsel, a ping from your email is an unwelcome distraction. Turn off email notifications – while Windows 8 and older you can turn off notifications in Outlook, in the new Windows 10 notifications are system-wide (click on this link at for a helpful how-to) – and work in peace.

Colleagues dropping by

A friendly workplace is great to have for a number of reasons, but one of the potential pitfalls is colleagues may drop by your office to chat about baseball and interrupt your work process. While you don’t want to close your door all the time and be the office hermit, it’s okay to shut out the world when you’re deep into a memo. If you are in an open space and the constant noise bothers you, consider headphones or earplugs to help you focus and indicate you don’t want to be disturbed.

We are not multitaskers

Very few of us can multitask well. Study after study shows that using a cell phone while driving is the equivalent of drunk driving. Trying to email instructions to staff, type out a factum, and text your friend at the same time is a recipe for disaster. With the mind trying to do everything at once, nothing gets the attention it deserves. Focus on doing one thing at a time.

Prevent distractions so you get the most out of your work day. With the task lists growing by the minute, the urge may be to do a bunch of tasks at once, but the best way to juggle is likely by doing each task one at a time, uninterrupted.

Ian Hu, Toronto.

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