Implementing too many different technological tools can be a backward step for businesses.
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This year, many of us have seen our usual working practices shift enormously due to remote working.
The pandemic caused businesses to rapidly implement new and unfamiliar technologies, all while navigating the personal challenges of working from home full-time.
Although technology is paramount in keeping teams connected and working to their highest potential, using too many tools can be detrimental to productivity and output.
Our latest survey from October 2020 found knowledge workers are switching between an average of 10 apps 25 times per day - resulting in disconnected communication, lack of efficiency and duplication of work. Most of us spend our time juggling apps, documents, and tabs, as well as going in and out of meetings.
However, every time that happens, our productivity pays for it. Constant switching between tasks and areas of focus may create a feeling of productivity and successful multitasking, but it actually blocks us from finding uninterrupted time to dedicate to completing work.
Every time we move between tasks, our attention is divided between them and we are unable to give each one our best. This leads to cognitive overload, dissatisfaction, and an inability to stop thinking about a task, even after it has been finished.
Most importantly, task and context switching is a huge contributor to burnout. Constantly shifting makes it harder for the brain to concentrate on the original task at hand, costing hours of time, whilst increasing stress levels by leading us down a rabbit hole of different activity.
Although breaking the task-switching cycle is difficult, below are a few simple changes that can improve focus, productivity, and overall performance.
Set your ‘Do Not Disturb’
We all feel a need to be constantly connected to each other, especially when working in a distributed environment. Yet, it is still important that distractions are minimised when using an array of tools to facilitate remote work.
A simple way to do this is to turn on an app’s “Do Not Disturb” or “Pause Notifications” feature, especially when planning on dedicating a chunk of time to uninterrupted work.
These features are standard across most collaboration and productivity tools. Encouraging teams to use them creates more autonomy and ownership over time, allowing for individuals to focus on the work that is most pressing for them.
Another way to make time for intensive focus is by creating blocks in your calendar. Signifying that you are in ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode in this way will help your colleagues to navigate your whereabouts, and know whether to lean on you for ad-hoc requests.
This ensures your team is conscious of your time, and avoids scheduling meetings during periods of deep focus. By taking back control of your time and ensuring transparency and communication remain at the forefront, teammates will be aware of your availability and can leave you to completely hone in on the work in question.
Spring clean your tech stack
It’s easy to fall into the trap of implementing an abundance of tools and platforms when working remotely, under the guise that all will increase productivity and collaboration.
Instead, take the time to streamline exactly what tools are useful to your team and pick the ones that can be integrated seamlessly with others, so that you can track work without having to switch between apps.
Once your tech stack has been refined and everyone is comfortable with the chosen tools, ensure that you review exactly how these platforms connect with each other. This will reduce friction between apps, helping avoid context-switching.
At Asana, we recently unveiled a range of deeper integrations with the best-of-breed tools including Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, to facilitate remote working and create a single source of truth for all work.
Without this, employees are wasting time and energy by rooting through a multitude of apps to find the right information — time that could have been spent on quality work. Finding applications that integrate with each other to provide a seamless experience without having to leave a platform helps teams reduce time spent on “work about work.”
Plan your purpose
Although context and app switching is impossible to remove completely, arming your team with the right tools can reduce the negative impact on attention and time.
As well as this, take a few minutes every morning to review tasks for the day, calendar, and inbox, in order to help you prioritise what is urgent, using your limited time efficiently. Rather than shoehorning focused work into small gaps between meetings, see if there is room to reschedule to give you longer spans of uninterrupted time.
Finally, choosing tools which can automate regular tasks, such as adding automation features into your inbox and workflows, can cut down admin time which can be repurposed elsewhere.
Not only is automation key to creating a transparent and connected workplace, it also makes work more engaging for employees by curbing repetitive tasks.
Just like general productivity, avoiding context and app switching cannot be mastered overnight. However, starting with the simple tips above can cause a significant change in time spent on tasks and bolster overall performance, easing cognitive overload so that you can spend time on the work that matters.
Joshua Zerkel is a Certified Professional Organiser and Head of Global Engagement Marketing at Asana.