If you tune in to the news regularly, you probably caught the story of the woman who quit her job and exposed her boss’s nefarious Farmville playing habits in one fell swoop. Even though it turned out to be a hoax (you’d heard about that, right?) it still makes an excellent point: We really need to work on ways to stay on task (and off Farmville!) when we’re at work!

Now, I know it’s easy to get dragged into multi-tasking when you’ve got time to kill. It’s tempting to leave Farmville running in the background when you’re in a tele-conference where your sole role is to sit still and listen, or to have a Facebook chat up and running in the background when you’re waiting for a page to load. The problem is, this isn’t as innocuous as it seems.

www.thechive.com

Of course, the question isn’t whether or not you should be playing Farmville in the office. You already know the answer to that. The question is, how do you curb the wandering eye that makes it impossible for you to stay on task in the office in the first place? Here are 5 steps from leading productivity experts designed to make it easy to turn off Facebook and turn on your own creative mind:

1) Schedule your day in small bites. All of us feel our attention span start to wander when we’ve been plugging away at the same project for the last 4 hours. Instead of giving in, try giving time boxing a try. That means you dedicate, say, 30 minutes to an hour to working on a project, then move on to the next one when your time is up. That way work stays fresh and engaging, and you’re less likely to wander away.

2) Save auto-pilot for when you really need it. It’s hard to stay on-task when your brain is bustling but you’re doing jobs you could be doing in your sleep. Schedule repetitive tasks for times when you know you’re not functioning 100%. (For example, during that sleepy period right after lunch!)

3) Prioritize. I don’t know about you, but I get frustrated and easily distracted when chances of actually finishing my to-do list dwindle down to nothing. Where’s the motivation when you know you’re never going to get done what you need to get done?

Prioritize. Start your day with what absolutely has to be done, and accept the fact that you might not get all the way from A-Z in the next 8 hours. You will actually do more if you can work without that sinking feeling of failure that comes from being overwhelmed, since your mind will be able to focus on one task at a time instead of all the tasks it still has to do.

4) Reward yourself. You might not have any say in when raises and bonuses come out, but what about your next cup of coffee? Promise yourself that when you finish that report you’ll take a 5 minute break to grab a cup of Joe. The prize at the end of the tunnel makes the journey worth it, and because you know that coffee’s getting farther away with every status update you post you’ll be less likely to do anything that’s going to push that reward any farther away.

5) Pop on headphones and kick on some music. Whether you’re working from home or sitting in your own little cubicle, offices are filled with distractions. By tossing on a good pair of headphones and kicking on some music you’re not only drowning out those distractions, you’re also assuaging your mind’s need to multi-task by giving it something to focus on along with work (which is great for those repetitive tasks we were talking about earlier).

**A word to the wise: Be careful when you choose the music you listen to at work. The last thing you want is for your distraction buster that’s meant to help you stay on task at work to become a distraction of its own!**

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Summer vacation is in no way, shape or form reserved exclusively for elementary students. Or teachers. Or high schoolers looking for summer jobs. If you haven’t already been overwhelmed by vacation requests, your employees are more ambitious than most! Psychiatrists keep telling us that letting employees out the door to make the most of their accumulated vacation time is a good thing. Clears the mind, prevents burnout, etc., etc. But how do you convince vacation to do what it’s supposed to do and actually increase employee productivity?

Is there any way to keep employee productivity on track when they've been bitten by the vacation bug?

I was reading a blog post yesterday that described the ages and stages of your employees’ vacation. For the week before vacation they’re distracted, finding it difficult to concentrate on the job at hand with freedom right around the corner. Couple that with a lighter workload than usual, since they won’t be around the following week, and you’ve got a notable drop in employee productivity. The next week they’re on vacation and out of the office, and the week after that they spend almost the entire week trying to snap their mind out of vacation mode and back into work mode.

That week-long vacation is going to wind up affecting their job performance for the better part of a month.

What you really need is a fly swatter to nip that vacation bug out of the picture, increasing your employee productivity instead of decreasing it. If you do it right, you may even be able to get them to the point where you hardly notice they’re gone!

If you’ve got a key employee going on vacation, be sure their projects (or certain phases of them) can be wrapped up before they leave. Make clearing their desk a priority. It’s amazing how much faster you can work when you know you’re going to be able to kick back and relax as soon as you’re done!

When another employee is going to be pinch hitting, let the vacationing veteran handle their training. The change in scenery (training instead of working by rote) will help keep their mind on the job, and when they know someone’s going to be taking their place there’s a good chance they’re going to put a little more effort into making sure their replacement doesn’t work any harder than they have to.

As often as possible, try to get employees started on new tasks or projects as soon as they get back. Their minds may be slow getting back into their old routine, but a new challenge makes their mind take a different path. After spending some time on the new and unfamiliar they should have no trouble getting back into the swing of things, and the excitement of a new project will usually compensate for any post-vacation jet lag in employee productivity.

Employee productivity isn’t measured in terms of the quantity of hours worked in most of today’s industries but, rather, in terms of the quality of hours worked. Play your cards right and an employee whose mind is rested, relaxed and ready to go after vacation is going to be put in a better performance all the way around.

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