Staying on task is an essential skill every employee should learn. It can be easy to get distracted or procrastinate throughout the day, so here are some ways to counteract that and help teach employees to stay on task.
1. Utilize Technology
Technology can be a huge boon to time management and keeping track of tasks. Introduce tools like time tracking software and calendars apps so employees can track how much time is spent on different projects and so meetings can be scheduled at times that work well for everyone invited. Such tools make it easy for employees to remember their schedules and workloads and communicate their availability to their coworkers.
2. Encourage Feedback and Questions
Make sure your employees know that you're available to discuss any feedback or questions they have. If someone feels that his or her desk is too close to the employee breakroom and the distractions from foot traffic or conversations, you can work with him or her to come up with an adequate solution. You may not be able to move the employee to another workstation based on space, but you might be able to work out a flexible workweek where the employee spends part of the week at home to focus on tasks somewhere with fewer distractions.
3. Introduce Time Auditing
While the core tasks of someone's job should take precedence, it's a fact of the workplace that a substantial chunk of the day can be eaten up by tasks such as attending meetings and answering emails. You can try conducting a time audit with your team. A time audit is a meeting where employees discuss or write down their expectations of how they should spend time at work and then discuss how those expectations align with reality. Ask employees about things that may interrupt tasks or tasks that have taken longer than expected. Ask about how employees feel they work best. Do small chunks of time spent on many different tasks help keep the day interesting? Or is a long period spent focusing on one task preferred? A time audit will help you discern what methods work best for each employee.
4. Encourage Self-care
It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about staying on task, but self-care is an essential aspect of time management. If you're stressed, it's more challenging to focus and easier to procrastinate. You should encourage employees to seek help if they're feeling stressed. If, for example, someone feels overwhelmed by his or her workload, it's crucial for you to make sure that person knows you can be approached and will help come up with a viable solution. You should take care of yourself and your own mental health too, so you can model self-care for your employees.
5. Discuss How To Avoid the Planning Fallacy
The planning fallacy is a term for underestimating how long it will take to complete a task. You should meet with your team to discuss how long everyone thinks a project or task will take, then discuss reasons those estimates could be inaccurate and how to combat project slowdown.
6. Introduce No Interruption Time
While anything urgent should obviously take top priority, it's beneficial for employees to carve out parts of their days or weeks to focus solely on their own work. You should encourage employees to block off time on their calendars, go into a pre-scheduled do not disturb mode on your company's messenger app, post notices at their desks asking not to be disturbed or find quiet places to work without distractions. This concept of no interruption time allows employees to take control of their task management and sink their teeth into their projects without interruption.
7. Teach Accountability
Accountability is essential to staying on task. You can't watch over all your employees every hour of every workday; your employees are going to need to monitor themselves and each other on a day-by-day basis. Encourage employees to think about their priorities and motivations and how those values align with their work.
8. Schedule a Regular Team Meeting
While meetings can cut into essential task work, it is important to host them periodically. You need to get together with your entire team regularly, perhaps once a week or once a month depending on the size of the team and project. Doing so will help the team gauge how much time is spent on certain tasks, how much of the project has been completed so far and how much is left to do. Keep in mind you can always cancel meetings if the team has a large workload. The benefit of a regular meeting is that you can afford to skip it every so often if that's more beneficial to the team.
Ultimately, the best way to teach employees to stay on task is to model these behaviors and practices and encourage them to adopt strategies that help them. No two employees are the same, so make sure multiple avenues are available to practice staying on task.