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Technology for your business: Friend or foe?
We’ve become a society that not only promotes, but insists on “multitasking.” We can run a business without ever leaving our homes, hold meetings with people anywhere on the planet, and transfer information within seconds—all with a laptop or phone and an internet connection. We’re more accessible, more streamlined, and more efficient than ever…for the most part.
Breaks from work throughout the day are necessary—and can even boost productivity—but allowing yourself to become distracted every time you get a notification is where problems start to arise.
According to a University of California Irvine study, every distraction can take an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to come back from, which can add up to a lot of wasted time daily. We’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts to help you ensure that you’re using technology to help you run your business, not run from it.
DO: Establish availability boundaries
The first step in controlling your productivity throughout the day is establishing rules with your employees, clients, and even friends and family about your availability. Let your mom know you won’t be able to pick up her calls until after 5 p.m. Let clients know that you need a window of 1-2 business days to reply to non-urgent inquiries. Let your accountant know that you can’t book meetings between certain blocks of your schedule.
You may think it’s better for business to be available for troubleshooting, unplanned brainstorm sessions, or last-minute conference calls whenever they come up, but the truth is, spreading yourself too thin won’t help you provide the kind of quality work that will lead to your business’ success. Set blocks of time throughout your week dedicated to interruption-free work, so you can complete those bigger projects upfront and focus on everything else after.
DON’T: Keep your mobile notifications on
Once you’ve set your boundaries, put a plan in motion to account for the people who don’t comply with them. All those forms of communication we just discussed are still going to be there to distract you if you let them. Your smartphone provides you with the opportunity to work when you’re on the go, making it possible to respond to inquiries and requests instantly. The habit of feeling the need to constantly respond as soon as your phone buzzes is one that grows quickly and is hard to break free from.
Not only do your notifications disrupt you from working, but they also increase the number of errors you make. A Florida State University study found that participants who received text messages during a test made three times the number of mistakes than those that didn’t receive the texts—even if they didn’t check the messages! Just knowing they received a text and wondering who it was from distracted them enough to negatively impact their test results.
Do yourself and your business a favor and turn off your phone notifications. If you can’t turn them off completely, at least turn off those that are non-essential. After all, do you really need to know when your grandma commented on a photo of your dog?
DO: Use time tracking and focus tools
With all this discussion about technology and the opportunities to be wonderfully (albeit negatively) distracted by it, let us not forget what its intended use was: to improve productivity and efficiency. Online productivity tracking and collaboration tools have made project management and time tracking super easy. If a project is in danger of not being completed on time, it’s immediately apparent and adjustments can be made accordingly. Time tracking also keeps employees accountable for their time for when the other suggestions on this list aren’t as successful.
If you’re trying to avoid the constant allure of social media and online shopping, you can use technology to protect you from…technology. Website blockers and extensions can help keep you focused by blocking you from sites or apps that only serve as distractions. If you know you have a tendency to peruse fashion blogs after lunch for longer than you should, using one of these sites can help keep you focused on whatever project you’re supposed to be working on instead.
Another focus technique you can try is the Pomodoro Technique. Developed in the late 1980’s by Francesco Cirillo, it suggests working in 25 minute intervals separated by short breaks to improve mental agility and achieve maximum focus. You simply pick a task to focus on for 25 minutes, uninterrupted. Once complete, you reward yourself with a five-minute break, and you repeat this cycle four times, at which point you’re allowed a longer break. The Pomodoro technique discourages multitasking and enables deep thinking and concentration without distractions.
DON’T: Let email fool you into thinking you’re being productive
Email provides us with a fast and efficient way to communicate with clients and colleagues, but it can be just as unproductive as logging in to Facebook. When we’re scrolling through Facebook, we know we’re not getting work done, but email can be a deceiving distraction. Trying to respond to emails as quickly as they arrive leads to a never-ending cycle of interruptions. Instead of continuously checking your inbox, set time slots throughout the day—like once each in the morning, afternoon, and evening—to avoid taking time away from more pressing work.
Think of how many emails you get a day that don’t require a response, let alone an immediate response. Is it worth interrupting your work flow to acknowledge an email you’ve been copied into for reference? Using filters within your email can help you automate some of the tasks you usually spend time completing manually, like separating those emails that require no action on your part. You can review the folder at the end of the day to get caught up on what you missed.
Another way to reduce the number of emails you receive is by reducing the number of emails you send. Spend more time considering who needs to be included on your email threads and make sure you say everything as clearly and efficiently as possible. This will reduce both the number of responses and the length of time spent going back and forth.
Finally, unsubscribe to any newsletters and solicitations you never actually read. Email clutter can be overwhelming, and it leads to extra time spent organizing and decluttering.
DO: Consolidate and integrate collaboration and software programs
Many businesses use at least a dozen different software programs, but some of them get as high as triple digits. Technology helps with productivity, but more programs doesn’t necessarily mean more productivity. It’s important to take audits and ensure that you don’t end up with hundreds of applications and programs working at cross purposes. You need to ensure your digital tools are helping, and not hurting, your organization.
Some businesses tend to fall into the “shiny new toy” syndrome, constantly trying out the next big thing. This leads to work being duplicated due to lack of visibility between different applications. Too many apps can put you in a worse position than too few, making collaboration difficult or impossible due to everyone using different software for the same tasks.
At the end of the day, technology can only help your business be as productive—or unproductive—as the person using it. Keeping these tips in mind should help you ensure your business remains the former.