Staying productive in the age of distraction is a constant struggle—especially when the kitchen is a few steps away. How can we get anything done when we are always being interrupted by push notifications and barking dogs?

It’s possible, but to get everything done we have to become more aware of how to structure our time.

To help your remote teams stay productive, you can work on a company level to create a more supportive culture. Adopting these three practices will help your people across the organization stay motivated, engaged, and productive, no matter where they’re working.

1. Embrace asynchronous communication

If immediately responding to every email or message is part of your company’s expectations; you might want to rethink how you’re working. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely found that there are three costs to immediately responding to every ping:

  1. Time cost: When we are constantly switching between tasks, we lose a lot of time. One study found that it took an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for people to get back to their original task.
  2. Performance cost: Distractions have a negative impact on the performance of the task at hand. The toll of “context switching” on our productivity is well-documented; research by time-tracking company RescueTime shows that context switching can consume 80% of your productive time.
  3. Wellbeing cost: Constantly switching between tasks tires and depletes us. A study conducted by Cornell University found a positive correlation between stress and context switching; Benjamin Cornwell, assistant professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences, wrote,

“Leaving one social context and entering a new one forces you to shift mindsets, to think more about what you are doing and saying. You switch from an automatic mode of cognition to a deliberative mode, and you have to shift a whole complex of social concerns, including status issues [and] modes of language.”

2. Setting clear, actionable deadlines

While deadlines may be dreadful, they also give us goals and direction. Could you imagine if, in school, you weren’t given any due dates, but were just told that each assignment was to be done as soon as possible? How would you know where to start? Surprisingly, this happens a lot in the working world. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time management coach, writes,

“Deadlines can be energizing and help you to sharpen your focus, set priorities, collaborate effectively with a team, and get work done, all while keeping projects on track and on schedule.”

Other research done by two business professors indicates that individuals who were given a series of interim, weekly deadlines for completing portions of projects performed significantly better than those who were given only one due date. They concluded that, if you want a job done right and done on time, set a series of deadlines for small, actionable goals—not just one final deadline.

3. Awarding working long hours

The Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” That means if you give yourself eight hours to complete a two-hour task, you’ll end up using all eight hours to finish that task. 

Longer hours doesn’t mean increased productivity; in fact, it usually means the opposite. A study conducted by Stanford University shows that productivity stalls at 56 hours per week. Think about that, plus the cumulative impact of exhausting and burnout on your work, and you’ll be paying a price for those long hours.

Working long hours creates more stress, increases the likelihood of making mistakes, and makes you lose sight of the bigger picture. Encourage employees to finish projects, not to stay late at work.

We all probably check our emails and phone too frequently, don’t set solid deadlines, and think those who stay online the longest are the hardest working. However, there are ways we can adapt to the age of distraction and ways we can learn to think differently about productivity so we still get the most out of our time at work!


From Shayna Hodkin

Shayna lives in south Tel Aviv with two dogs and a lot of plants. She writes poems and reads tarot.