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Be a Better Employee by Distracting Yourself (Occasionally)

5 MINUTE READ | May 2, 2016

Be a Better Employee by Distracting Yourself (Occasionally)

Did you know that the average full time employee works 47 hours per week?! That’s 42% of your waking hours per week! Okay, it’s a well known cliche that these days people work long hours. But have you ever stopped to consider how those hours affect your quality of life, or the quality of the work you put out? You may think you can consistently put out your best work 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, but the prevailing thought is that that’s not really possible. So here’s a few ways to improve your work ethic and quality of work life.

Listen to Music While You Work

A growing number of offices in America are moving to open office layouts, in fact according to Forbes, almost 70% of offices have “some type of open floor plan”. While the benefits of an open office are numerous, there are some obvious drawbacks, with the most obvious being noise levels. Without a cubicle to drown out the din of goings-on in the office, it may sometimes be hard to concentrate on your work.

So distract yourself from those distractions. It may seem counterintuitive to add more noise to help you focus, but studies show that music can help your mood and work ethic. Dr. Teresa Lesiuk studied the effect of music listening while working, developing a Quality-of-Work score to assess this. Over the weeks that her candidates were being observed, the lowest Quality-of-Work score was seen during the week music was removed, with a noticeable uptick when it was reintroduced the next week.

She hypothesizes that the increase in positive mood associated with listening to music is what drives better performance at work. With that in mind, try listening to music that helps you focus and makes you happy. If you’re looking for options, I highly recommend the playlist Deep Focus by Spotify, a collection of mostly lyric free instrumentals that give off a calming, focused vibe.

Work on Something Different

A sentiment that I know many of my current and former coworkers share is that working on one thing for too long can really slow down a day and cause frustration. Well the good news is, multiple different researchers have found that working on something besides your primary task is good not only for your mental well-being but also your work ethic.

This isn’t to say that you should spend part of your workday learning basket weaving if your primary task is web development, but spending time on varied tasks and learning new skill sets that are tangentially related to your main responsibilities show the above benefits. Fritz et al. show that varied growth opportunities at work can keep you energized and improve your mood. Schilling et al. found similar implications, showing that pursuing variation within a task set can enhance the learning process for both tasks.

Implementing this advice can be as simple as looking for a different, and hopefully better, ways to accomplish what you already do. I work with large amounts of data, and the other day a coworker encouraged me to use Excel less and start learning SQL, changed my work life. I was spending less time on what was originally my “primary task”, but was learning a new skill that not only gave me a sense of accomplishment, but also made me more efficient at work.

Take Breaks Every Day (Real Ones)

This one may sounds obvious, but less and less people are taking true breaks. Consider first the lunch break. This is the default break that almost everyone who works 9 – 5 or a similar schedule shares in common. Many employers grant 30 minutes to hour in the middle of the day to stop working and eat, some states even legally require employers to offer this. But according to a 2012 survey by Right Management Group only 19% of people take advantage of this break on a regular basis. The other 81% is split between people that either eat at their desk while continuing to work, or don’t eat at all.

Research by Charlotte Fritz et al. shows that time away from work throughout the day can increase overall well-being, performance capacity, and performance related outcomes at work. But to achieve these benefits, the employee must take a “true break”. Simply stopping to eat in the middle of the day might not be enough to refresh and reignite you for the rest of the day. Activities that can improve mood and performance include taking walks and socializing, but the most important aspect is to mentally and physically distance yourself from your work for a period of time. Fritz’s research shows that working during breaks or even just contemplating work and work responsibilities negates the positive effects of taking a break.

Personally, I take the “distance yourself from your work” advice very literally. My favorite way to reenergize throughout the day is to put my phone on silent and take a walk outside. I get some exercise, take in some sun, and fully disconnect my brain from technology and work for 10 – 15 minutes a couple times a day. I come back to my desk calmer, happier and ready to take on the afternoon.

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At the end of the day you still have tasks to accomplish, deadlines to meet, and supervisors to report to, but these are a few ways that you can be a better employee for your company and a happier person for yourself.


Posted by Garrett Milliken

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