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A few years ago, cultural observers and workplace experts were asking a common question: Will the ubiquitous presence of cell phones, the internet and personal texting distract employees and pull them away from their assigned tasks? The solution to this potential problem seemed simple enough (for employees with the necessary willpower and employers with the necessary authority): just put them away. Put devices to the side during work hours and voila! Problem solved.

But the world has changed, even over a short time. And at this point, employers are not only encouraging employees to connect their devices on company networks, they’re even demanding employees make themselves available to the company—via text, talk, message, hangout or video chat—all day. Company-sponsored distractions are now pulling us away from company-sponsored tasks and combined with information and noise feeds from our personal lives, the roar can be deafening. How can a distracted person cope? Here are a few tips.

Set boundaries from the start.

Even before your job interview is over, it’s okay—and smart—to ask your employer about connectivity policies. How often and when will you be expected to stay in touch? If your boss will want you to respond to texts and calls within five minutes, one hour or three days, the sooner you find out the better. And if you’d rather control your phone than let it control you, say so. If you don’t plan to stay instantly responsive when you’re on the road, home for the weekend or sleeping at 3:00 a.m., be clear.

Rely on your recorded messages.

Don’t just use your out-of-office email message feature when you leave for your annual vacation; use it every day. Feel free to change your outgoing voice message when you step away from your desk, leave for the day or don’t want to be distracted. Share as much or as little information as you choose, but those options are there for a reason—Use them!

Be honest about your flexibility.

Don’t say or imply you’ll respond right away or accept a scheduled meeting invite at the last minute unless your statement is true. If you can’t accept a 3:00 invitation at 2:30, don’t suggest you will. Use statements like “Just choose a time and I’ll schedule around you” or “Just reach out to me whenever you’re ready and I’ll be here” only when you really mean them. Otherwise, say “I’ll need one day’s notice” or “Call me and I’ll get back to you before the end of the week.”

For more on how to step away from your alerts, beeps, rings, pings and the constant digital clamor of those who request your attention, reach out to the Milwaukee workplace productivity pros at Extension.

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