A Practical Guide to Reducing Workplace Distractions for the Autonomous Employee

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Throughout most of my professional career, I have found myself fully immersed within appointments that require autonomy, personal motivation, excellent time management, and a slew of other self-regulated processes. As a previous Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and the Executive Chairman of Match Group and Tinder, various components of the positions required stringent self-management. Though these assignments were highly collaborative, and required participation in many team-oriented tasks, a large portion of my days consisted of tangible tasks that I was solely responsible for executing in a timely fashion. Through these assignments, I mastered the need for self-governance in the face of workplace distractions, digital temptations, and other potentially time-wasting activities.


Drown Out The Noise

            Within all industries, across a myriad of roles, auditory workplace distractions can lead to unproductive work cycles. From the constant clacking of keyboards, to loud telephone conversations, the sheer presence of auditory stimuli can render too much of a distraction for many individuals to successfully complete needed tasks. Thankfully, many innovative thinkers, workplace development leaders, and other professionals have recognized this issue across various industries, and even in the cases of people who work from home.

            Various apps, and browser extensions, have been developed with the goal of cancelling out auditory workplace distractions, and creating a soothing environment that is conducive to accomplishing work-related tasks. Through the use of research-based ambient sounds dedicated to varying results, from increased concentration to relaxation, this newest crop of noise-cancelling technologies is different from the old electronic box that repeated the sound of crashing waves for eight hours. Instead, these thoughtfully curated technologies introduce subtly nuanced sounds, perfectly balanced and tailored to a specific goal.

            By utilizing these purposeful noise-cancelling browser extensions, I have witnessed the transformative power of increased concentration, and ability to create resonating and complex thoughts without distraction. For many jobs that require extensive problem-solving, ambient noise apps and browser extensions can be a tranquil gift that can shape imminent success, and increased productivity.


Implement The Pomodoro Technique

            Established in the 1980’s, the Pomodoro Technique is vastly useful within highly autonomous workplace environments, as it sets concise rules in an otherwise completely self-managed arena. Used a means of stringent time-management, the Pomodoro Technique allows users to experience reward as a result of time well managed, in a Pavlovian exercise of wills. First, followers of the technique must identify a tangible work-related task that requires completion. Then, followers set a timer for twenty five minutes, and focus entirely on the project at hand, working fervently on only the previously decided upon project. Upon the completion of the set twenty five minute period, followers are then rewarded with a five minute break to utilize at their discretion. Following this five minute break, the process starts again. After four successful rounds of this pattern, followers are allowed to take a longer break, usually capping the break at thirty minutes.

            Many industry leaders tout this method as being vastly successful, and credit the technique with being effective for productivity-focused individuals who do not have a traditionally monitored schedule, and don’t rely on the oversight of management to determine workflow. In my own experience, this method of allowing small breaks also offers an opportunity to step away from a particularly engrossing project, which often allows new perspectives to creep in throughout the break period.


   “Tell” On Yourself

            If the temptation of checking news headlines throughout the day, looking at scores from last night’s game, or delving into a lengthy article for no reason are impossible to shake independently, there are various tech tools designed to virtually monitor your digital usage, and enforce the parameters you determine on your behalf. Thus, virtually “telling” on yourself can result in effective streamlining, and a transformative reduction in workplace distractions. Browser extensions like Strict Workflow allow users to dictate designated work times via a timer, and assign blockers to the extension’s pre-determined “fun” sites, with the ability to add custom sites to the proverbial block list. When the timer is initiated, these websites become disabled, encouraging users to focus on the task at hand until the timer runs out.

            While it may be rather admirable to imagine possessing the self-control needed to never wander off course throughout the work day, this ideal is simply not the case for even the most motivated of employees. Thus, utilizing technological innovations to help us monitor our own use of the same technological innovations is sometimes required intervention. Within my own experience, I have found that seemingly innocent browsing can certainly spiral into a whirlwind of reading articles at length. While the articles may still be relevant to industry work, reading them wasn’t the initial task at hand, and therefore, not the best utilization of time.


Save Interesting Tidbits for Later

            As previously mentioned, the danger of merely browsing through the headlines lies in the eventual slide into fully engulfing oneself in lengthy articles, followed by recommended supplemental reading, and further research. The tech gurus understand the constantly battling need for continued research and education, versus the need for appropriate time management. With serious FOMO related to never returning to an article that isn’t immediately fully read, tech innovators have developed several apps and browser extensions that act as a virtual pocket, saving and organizing content to be enjoyed later. These products have the capacity to store websites, articles, and videos, which can be pulled up at a later, more opportune moment. By saving potentially interesting reads for later, users can rest assured that their content won’t be lost in the constantly evolving news feed of the internet, and can revisit items as desired, perhaps during a longer allotted break.

            While maintaining a highly autonomous professional position is vastly empowering, and allows for the control of one’s own professional destiny on a daily basis, it must be treated as an opportunity that must be seized in a thoughtful, time-sensitive, and consistent manner. Though many individuals seemingly daydream about the prospect of limited oversight, this oversight must come from within when in the midst of autonomous employment opportunities. With a few simple adjustments, and implementation of tech-based tools, highly motivated professionals can reduce workplace distractions, and develop fully present habits conducive to long-term success.

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Greg Blatt | New York City, New York | 2020

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