TADS Insights

Where are You

1 July 2015

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While at work, how often have you found yourself thinking about everything else but work?  For many of us, I suspect the answer is “frequently” or “very frequently” depending on how honest we are with ourselves.

When you really look at it, you may be surprised to discover the amount of work time we squander by fretting about things that never happened, planning for non-work activities that could easily be done later, or simply replaying events in our minds that have little bearing on our job role or the task in front of us.


It’s a common problem and one that organisations are beginning to pay attention to.  Indeed organisational researchers have estimated that in many workplaces employees spend less than 30% of their time focussed on what they are meant to be doing.  This is especially a problem in jobs with a high element of knowledge content where the primary output from the worker is ideas or concepts that are the direct result of some kind of “thinking” activity.

The interesting questions are why do we have such difficulty concentrating on our work, and what can organisations do to increase that percentage?

To answer the why part, we need to take a step back and look more closely at the mindset of the employee.  There are two aspects to this. 

First, we need to determine how “engaged” the person is with their role, their organisation or even the industry in which they are working.  When a person is strongly engaged they have made a direct and emotional connection between their personal values, goals and aspirations and what it is their organisation is setting out to do. 

With strong engagement, a person becomes passionate about their work because they can easily see the relationship between the work they do, and something they believe in.  And once that passion is ignited, the employees feel enthusiastic about their work and how they can contribute.

The second aspect is about the “mental toolkit” that employees have available to help them in keeping concentration on workplace tasks although at times these tasks may be challenging, unpleasant, or even boring.   

The great news is that with training and practice, everybody can get better at managing their mind and their mental state so that there are able to achieve more with less effort than they ever thought possible.  For example, techniques such as personal workflow management, planned creativity, and the smart handling of email are a few of the ways that we can all learn and put into action within our lives.

From an organisational perspective (what can we do), it’s important that employees at all levels are encouraged to take some time out and question their motivation for their work.  Are they working because they have to, or do they feel engaged at an emotional level with the work of the organisation?  And, ultimately, what does “success” mean for them?

It’s also critically important that employees develop good skills of self-management which they can put into action if they find themselves loosing focus on the task in front of them.  The learning and application of these skills requires constant effort and a supportive workplace culture that values learning from the experiences of others.

By helping your people to find personal engagement and passion in their work and then encouraging the development of skills of self-management you will be well on your way to making every hour at work a great hour.

-- David Keane