Association for Project Management
Distractions are damaging your project productivity
Blog posted by: Paul Naybour, 14 Jun 2022.
It doesn’t matter whether you work as part of a large or small project team, are office-based or work mainly from home, there are distractions everywhere. Across a project team as a whole, there is a good chance that these distractions could be damaging project productivity.
We often consider how project management contributes to productivity improvements within an organisation but it’s also worth considering the productivity within each project and how that can be improved. In its simplest terms productivity on any project is a ratio of work completed and the expenditure in time and/or money. However, other information needs to be factored in to this raw measure, such as relevant data from the same industry or data from similar projects completed in the past.
A variety of productivity metrics can be applied to projects depending on the type of project. such as an IT, engineering or construction project – all of which will have productivity metrics related to their specific industry. But there are also general metrics that can be used on any project such as actual vs scheduled time or actual vs budgeted cost.
Productivity metrics are not the only project metrics that contribute to meeting those all-important project goals, just as distractions are not the only reason for poor productivity. However, removing or minimising distractions, being better at managing time and establishing a team culture that consciously avoids distractions are great ways to start to improve productivity. And perhaps here in the UK we could do with as much help as we can get – especially judging by data released earlier this year by the Office for National Statistics that compared productivity across the G7 nations.
Achieving good productivity levels requires a mixture of focus, motivation, engagement and, of course, discipline. It requires effective planning techniques, thorough monitoring of progress and a motivated team with the necessary skills and tools. Getting this balance just right can be tricky. Projects are never quite as straightforward as you would like and often don’t go to plan (because of their very nature). Maintaining an equilibrium between all the necessary elements that contribute to productivity can be hard; whereas disrupting that equilibrium can be all too easy.
Fortunately, there are things that you can do that will help reduce distractions. So let’s take a look at what these distractions might be on a typical project, how they can damage productivity and why it’s important to minimise them.
What distractions can damage your productivity?
Probably the biggest culprit when it comes to distractions is technology. Whether this is checking the notifications on your phone, checking your emails, or taking a quick look at social media or the internet. We have all done it, and it is so easy to believe you will just have a quick peek, only to become completely absorbed. It is important that members of the team understand what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of these distractions. After all, a text message could be a family emergency that is actually very important but time on social media or the internet is unlikely to be so.
Long and complicated tasks can also be a distraction. This is simply because they require a person to concentrate for a long period of time before they can have the satisfaction of completing the task. Smaller tasks offer a much quicker gratification because it is much easier to see the end, cross them off the list and move onto the next task, and this makes is seem like you have been more productive.
The people around us
For some people, working in an open plan office can be a huge distraction. The noise of other people talking on the phone, people moving around or the colleague who always wants to stop and have a chat, all of these can be unwelcome distractions. Working from home can also be a distraction for many individuals, with family members asking questions, parcels arriving and knocks at the door all playing their part in disrupting routines.
The surprising things that can improve productivity levels
Surprisingly, taking a deliberate break from your desk, to grab a snack or a hot drink, to get some fresh air or simply a few minutes of downtime can actually be very beneficial to productivity. You might think that this would be a distraction but studies have shown that small breaks can be particularly beneficial to productivity in the workplace. They are also important to wellbeing and we already know that employee wellbeing and productivity are linked.
If you want to reduce distractions within your project team in order to boost productivity, encourage your team members to take regular breaks and avoid checking social media or browsing the internet. It won’t solve all productivity problems but it’s a simple place to start.
You may also be interested in:
- Evolving project leadership
- How to handle on-team conflict and negative work environments when working remotely
- What is project team management?
About the Author
Paul Naybour is the Business Development Director for Parallel Project Training. He is a well-known speaker in the APM Branch Network, a Project Management Trainer and Consultant. He is also one of the voices behind the popular series of APM PMQ podcasts.
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