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Is email making you stressed?

Next time you open your inbox, notice what happens to your breathing. Do you hold your breath when you open your inbox? Or does your breathing speed up?

Email makes many of us feel anxious, overwhelmed and stressed.

The never-ending stream of demands coming at us can seem just too much to deal with. The information overload can be overwhelming.

Close your inbox for a moment and step back. Ask yourself just how healthy your relationship with email is… and if it is causing you stress or strain, what can you do to improve this?

The huge reaction to the recent news that 250,000 French workers have been told – following a legally-binding labor agreement – to disconnect outside of working hours, shows that many of us are perhaps missing a vital element when it comes to email: boundaries.

For these French workers, it’s simple. The rule says no email outside of working hours, so no email outside of working hours it is…

Is this what many of us are craving? For someone to draw us a line?

In the absence of someone to tell us to switch off, it’s time to put our own boundaries in place.

Try these tips:

1. Avoid keeping your email open all the time. Being constantly distracted by updates and pinging demands from other people means that you’ll never turn your full attention to the work you’re doing. It means you’ll be constantly ‘on alert,’ will be less productive and will make more mistakes. Even half an hour switched off at a time is beneficial. Try it.

2. Decide how many times a day you want to check email. Twice? Four times? Only once? This can depend on the day. Many of us blame the boss or the people we work with for the reason we check email so much. But in fact, much of the pressure we feel to check we actually put on ourselves. Notice this, and talk to your boss about email methods and productivity if needs be.

3. Don’t check your email first thing in the morning. If you do, you’ll immediately be spending your time and energy on other people’s demands, rather than on your own priority tasks. Do something else first for an hour (or two hours). See what a difference this makes to your productivity.

4. Decide what time to switch off email at the end of the day. Stick to this. Log out and breathe.

If all else fails, however, there is always one more option… shut down, pack up and move to France.

This blogpost also appears on The Huffington Post website

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10 signs digital distraction is harming your business

Is digital distraction harming your business? This common office ailment saps productivity, increases stress, and redefines the very essence of ‘work’. Here’s how to spot if it’s happening in your office.

1) Default always on

When you walk round the office, most people have email open on their computer screen. They allow near constant interruptions, and instead of completing tasks in a focused and productive way, divert their attention every few minutes to respond to whatever demands come in.

2) Reply to all

The culture in your office is to cc people in to emails. People who don’t need to know anything about a certain issue spend time reading about it, and get distracted from what they were doing. Instead of walking across and talking to someone nearby, people tend to send them an email.

3) On call workers

You send an email out of hours – for example on a Saturday – not intending for the recipient to reply until Monday. They reply almost instantly. Workers are ‘on call’, rather than using the weekend to restore their energy. If you want your employees to be energised, full of ideas, and ready to go again come Monday morning, tell them to switch off at the weekend.

4) Dragging their heels

Productivity in your office has gone down. You don’t feel like you are getting the best out of people. Workers seem exhausted, stressed, and always busy, yet the right things aren’t getting done.

5) Sick of it

Sickness, stress, and poor performance are a problem. The names for this come in various forms, but ‘burnout’ is something you’re worried about. People keep mentioning information overload and feel like they can’t keep up.

6) On the agenda

In meetings, smartphones sit on the meeting table. People think nothing of sending messages or reading their emails while someone else is talking. Key points do not register and people don’t listen properly. After a meeting, people rush back to their desks to reply to yet more emails.

7) Zero inspiration

No-one is bringing you any good ideas. Distracted, bitty thinking takes over from deep thinking and reflection in a climate where distraction is the norm. If you’re distracted every 10 minutes, no wonder there’s no time to develop ideas. Ideas need time to form. Encourage your employees to switch off, as, chances are, they’ll have a bright idea when they’re walking, being creative, or focused on something else.

8) Headline goes here

Mistakes are being made. People send an attachment forgetting to attach the attachment, or reply all instead of just reply, or send an email to the wrong person. They blame their bad memory for not carrying out tasks they were asked to do. You’ve noticed errors have started to creep in to written documents and simple tasks. Quality is suffering. And yet, everything is taking far longer …

9) The endless task

People spend far too long completing a task. Endless time is spent searching for things – through email inboxes, or on the Internet, as people get distracted from what they were doing and even forget to do what they originally intended. Multitasking is a typical way of working, and people often have multiple tabs and multiple documents open on their screen.

10) Clocking off

No one leaves the office on time. Workers use either end of the day (early morning and the evening) to get on with the core work they should have done during the day. They don’’t get this work done during the day because they are distracted. Job satisfaction is low, stress is high, and people don’t have a good work-life balance.

Sound familiar? If you recognise your office here, get in touch to discuss how we can help. We’ll visit your office and give you methods you can use straight away to make your office a more productive place.  

Find out more here

Email us or fill in our contact form to start working on a solution.

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The multitasking myth

Do you Tweet while watching TV? Or online shop while glancing up at a programme?

If so, you’re not alone.

Ofcom statistics released in the last few days provide evidence for something most of us can feel is happening to us – we just can’t seem to do one thing at once.

Owning multiple devices, the temptation is high to get on with something else at the same time as watching TV. So we email, surf, Tweet, IM, text or post an update on social media, while at the same time watching a TV show.

Looking at media multitasking, Ofcom has identified two trends. The first is media meshing – where the thing you are doing relates to the TV show you are watching, for example, Tweeting about a TV show.

The second – more common – trend is media stacking – where the media activity you are doing is unrelated to the TV show, for example, browsing the Internet while watching TV.

Some 25% of adults regularly (at least weekly) media mesh, and around half of adults (49%) regularly media stack.

But how damaging is this behaviour to us?

It’s one thing when the multitasking we are doing relates simply to watching TV. We perhaps miss out on letting our brains ‘switch off’, and lose out on time to relax. We maybe fail to absorb or remember the show we were watching. Or we don’t hear what another person in the room is saying to us about the TV show.

But beyond the living room, there are far more serious consequences.

As most of us know, this urge to multitask now extends to most aspects of our lives. With devices with us all the time, we are letting ourselves be constantly distracted.

So we email and browse the Internet while working – finding our work suffers or isn’t getting done. We text, surf and post updates while spending time with friends and family, and damage our human connections. We multitask while studying and don’t remember what we are meant to be learning.

For business, productivity, learning, health, and safety there are huge far-reaching consequences of our current digital behaviour.

When we multitask, productivity drops by around 40%. Memory and quality also suffer, and we end up feeling drained and stressed.

These are some of the things I look at in my book, The Distraction Trap, where I give advice on how to focus amid the pull of digital distractions.

We may feel like we are going fast while multitasking – zooming here, clicking there – but in fact we’re slowing ourselves down and losing the power of focus.

Other interesting findings in the Ofcom Communications Market Report 2013 include the fact that 51% of adults in the UK now own a smartphone and one in four households now has a tablet computer.

With digital use becoming so widespread, it’s time to stop and think about the consequences of inviting these devices in to every corner of our lives.

After all, there’s much to be said for plain old-fashioned TV watching, and just doing one thing at once.

© Frances Booth

The Distraction Trap: How to focus in a digital world (Pearson 2013) is available widely in bookshops and online. ISBN 978-0-273-78585-9

– For any media requests or requests for syndication please email connect@thedistractiontrap.com