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The Green Sheet Online Edition

May 11, 2009 • Issue 09:05:01


Capitalizing on distractions

Distractions are something all of us deal with and give in to, on different levels. On a given workday, at least some of your time will be spent doing things outside the usual framework of your job - in many cases because you are distracted.

It is incumbent on everybody in the office to compartmentalize time in a way that optimizes efficiency and maximizes output, to use a little business parlance. This entails working hard, but not ceaselessly.

An uncompromising work ethic may carry you for a time, but in the long run it will wear you down and leave you spent - hindering the same drive you worked so tirelessly to cultivate.

Mixing things up

Although too many distractions can be detrimental, mixing things up with a little diversion is actually healthy. The workplace doesn't have to be a regimented, procedural mill where merchant retention strategies, marketing approaches and product ideas are churned out with clockwork rigor.

Rather, it can be a place where people interact and, on occasion, have fun while they plug away.

Set aside time for relaxation and recreation during each work day, without letting those activities become entangled with your work. Go for a walk, browse the news online, chat with a co-worker about a movie you saw or write an e-mail to a friend.

Proper time management combines this spirit with the realization that workplace productivity is always the bottom line.

Indeed, as much as we all enjoy toys - high tech and otherwise - and as central as such things may be to the atmosphere in certain offices, the ultimate reason we come to work is to be productive and contribute to our business endeavors in a meaningful, long-lasting way.

With that in mind, problems also tend to arise when distractions are so time consuming that they eclipse more constructive pursuits. As is often the case at work - and in life - striking a balance is crucial.

But managing not to engulf oneself in distractions at the workplace used to be a lot easier. Quite simply, it involved not spacing out or leaving the office too often when a task was before you.

Monster of all distractions

Today we are faced (literally) with an unprecedented distraction - the most persistent, most seductive and most powerful source of wasted time ever - the Internet. How ironic that the greatest resource the world has ever seen is also its greatest impediment to workplace productivity.

The Internet grips you by offering infinity, compelling you to continue surfing in the face of boundless information and limitless options. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing - to be sure, it is an amazing tool when used properly - only that it makes it very easy to get bogged down.

Sometimes old-fashioned time management strategies are your best bet to combating negative outside influences (like an Internet obsession). Set aside, in advance, a little time to surf the Web when you get to work, but limit it to a strict time frame or to those Web sites you consider crucial - because they're relevant to your work or indispensible to your humanity, like that favorite news outlet.

Middle ground

The news, by the way, is a perfect example of something that occupies a middle ground between being a distraction and a workplace tool: It may not always be integral to your job, yet a little cosmopolitan awareness can always come in handy.

If you run an ISO, it may help to stay apprised of the day's retail trends, which can be used later as selling points in dealing with merchants.

For example, pointing out that consumers are cash-strapped may help with a pitch to adopt gift and loyalty card programs that help people save money.

Or, looking ahead, staying informed about the potential game-changing emergence of near field communication technology may keep you on the front lines when merchants begin purchasing POS terminals that support mobile phone purchases.

Most distractions inhabit the very same gray area between boon and bane that online news does.

Though your ability to surf the Internet, talk with co-workers, play with toys and take the occasional walk around your office park aren't primarily what make you an asset to your company, they can in moderation serve to keep you energized and stimulated - and even be the source of work-related ideas.

Indeed, sometimes a walk or conversation or inspiring article on the Web can invigorate a mind like nothing else. But it's important to apply that boost to something constructive - to make your distractions into something more than just a waste of time.

By harmonizing serious work with a little healthy play, you'll quickly find your optimal mental zone. end of article

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