Daily Briefing

Are your employees distracted? Here are 4 ways to fix that.


Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Jul. 20, 2023.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, former Stanford University lecturer and bestselling author Nir Eyal provides four tips to help managers identify and address what is distracting their employees.

1. Openly discuss workplace distractions

According to Eyal, one of the primary issues associated with workplace distractions is that workers typically refrain from talking about them. "Asking employees for feedback on the most significant work distractions won't work if they fear reprisal for sharing their thoughts," he notes.

To establish a culture where employees succeed, managers must emphasize what psychologists call "psychological safety," which is the sense of security that stems from knowing you will not be punished for voicing reasonable concerns.

"Only when people feel safe discussing their workplace problems will you be able to find solutions to fix them," Eyal writes. "Chances are, if your workplace can't talk about distraction, there are all kinds of other skeletons in the closet you can't discuss either."

2. Sync your schedules

Managers are often unaware of their employees' schedules. "Then, when people take longer than expected to finish tasks and projects, you wonder if employees lack the capability or motivation to do their job well," Eyal notes.

However, this is likely not the case—employees are often "distracted by constant interruptions, pointless meetings, and a never-ending flow of emails," which is sometimes initiated by managers themselves, he adds.

When managers and employees sync their schedules, managers are able to get a better sense of how their employees spend their time.

According to Eyal, this can be accomplished in a variety of ways. For example, managers can ask employees to share a timeboxed calendar that details when they like to do certain tasks and when they have more flexibility for meetings and additional tasks.

"This gives you visibility into how they plan their day so you can avoid interruptions during their focused work or off hours or suggest reprioritization if necessary," Eyal writes. "You can also share your calendar so employees know when they can — or can't — interrupt you."

In addition, managers can ask their team members to designate specific daily distraction-free periods, with no messages, calls, emails, meetings, or quick in-person check-ins. "Using schedule-syncing tactics will help you gain better insight into how employees spend their time without micromanaging them," Eyal notes.

3. Create meeting agendas

Agendas can be a valuable tool to prevent your meeting from feeling like "a waste of time" that "likely could have been an email," Eyal writes. 

"Agendas were invented for a reason, and although it's a practice adhered to by high school student council groups, people somehow forget it when they get to the corporate world," he notes.

Still, people often "schedule a meeting to avoid having to put in the effort of solving a problem themselves," Eyal writes. "Collaboration can be a powerful problem-solving tool, but people shouldn't use meetings as a distraction from the hard work of thinking."

When a meeting includes a set agenda, everyone typically stays on task, reducing unnecessary meetings with minimal effort from the meeting organizer.

4. Be an example

Typically, company culture filters from the top down—and employees often turn to their managers to gauge expectations. "You can't demand that your staff work without distraction if you're constantly looking at your phone in the middle of meetings or sending emails at midnight," Eyal notes.

"So, make time for focused work yourself," he suggests. "Let people know when you're available, and don't interrupt others during their focused work or off-hours. The most critical step to building an indistractable workplace is being an indistractable boss." (Eyal, Harvard Business Review, 1/13)

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