Let's be honest, you didn't get too much done at work this week, did you?
Don't be too hard on yourself. As the days tick off until the end of the year, getting work done can feel like an uphill battle. Holiday parties, children's school recitals, family obligations and, of course, shopping seem to bite into the few hours we really have to get things done at work. Despite the countless coffees swilled during the day and e-mails sent at night, our output just doesn't seem to meet our needs or even our expectations.
But it's not just the holiday season: A new survey by ADP Canada shows Canadians are less productive than we could be and we know it, with 49 per cent saying they could do more on the job. Ontarians in particular feel more distracted than the rest of the country, with 53 per cent saying they could do better.
Despite what most Canadians consider to be our stellar work ethic, this productivity deficit is nothing new. The Conference Board of Canada ranked Canada fifth among comparable countries in terms of productivity back in 2012, noting that productivity growth has been in decline since the 1970s. At the time, the report explained that there is general confusion between productivity and work intensity, explaining that employees don't need to work "harder" but rather should find ways to produce more goods and services with the same amount of effort.
Instead, what we are left with today is what ADP refers to as a "distraction deluge."
Distractions, explained Russell Wong, chief financial officer at ADP Canada, may stem from endless e-mail notifications, ringing phones, chatty co-workers and the need to keep up with multiple social media feeds.
"The fact that we can all easily access so much information that is relevant to our work creates an insatiable desire among some to see how others are approaching similar business challenges versus relying on our own instincts and those within our organization. This can provide helpful outside perspective, but it's also extremely distracting," said Mr. Wong.
In fact, there has been considerable research that proves that switching tasks to access all these various knowledge sources – for example from responding to an e-mail or Slack notification to speak to someone who walked up to your desk to ask a "quick question" – can be a productivity killer.
Peak productivity comes from being able to focus on one task at a time until completion.
Another major cause of our distraction comes down to "process paralysis," or the systems and bureaucratic barriers that slow things down. If you have ever waited 10 minutes for an e-mail response before you could get on with your work, you'll be familiar with this experience. Mr. Wong says that, in many organizations, a given piece of work might need to be reviewed by multiple people before it can be considered complete. If even one in the list feels overwhelmed, that creates a bottleneck.
The good news, according to Mr. Wong, is that there are simple fixes to mitigate "distraction deluge." For starters, identify the "bottlenecks" in the process and determine if there is a workload issue. Some employees may be unable to make quick decisions if they are managing too many tasks at once.
The second thing to consider is what tasks lend themselves to automation. Work that tends to be highly predictable, such as payroll, are ideal places to start. Outsourcing processes that weigh down employees is also an ideal option. Taking an onerous task off the shoulders of employees whose focus could be put to better use may improve productivity that could ripple through an organization.
However, this doesn't mitigate the human factor, where we just can't stop checking our e-mail or listening to an inane conversation going on between colleagues nearby. While the trend toward collaborative and open work-spaces offers many benefits, it doesn't work for everyone, Mr. Wong said.
Employers can address this issue by installing higher cubicle walls to deter visual distractions or find other physical ways to dampen the noise. Employers can also consider flexible hours so that employees sensitive to sound can start their day when things are quieter. Offering employees the chance to work from home once in a while may also help them focus.
"The key is communication with your team. Everyone has days where they get less done than they should, but if those days turn to weeks and months, you end up with frustrated, disengaged employees and that's where you can get into expensive turnover issues," Mr. Wong said.
So go ahead, order another "double-double" at Tim Hortons and pick up those holiday doughnuts for the office as an incentive to encourage productivity. It may make you feel better for a few moments but if you think it will help you get your work done more efficiently, think again.
Leah Eichler (@LeahEichler) writes about workplace trends