The Thieves In Your Office

03/12/2015 12:40 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2015


If you saw someone in your office grab a pile of $100 bills from the petty cash drawer and light it on fire, you'd call the cops, right?

Yet people are robbing you all day, every day.

And your employees/team members are robbing each other.

And you are letting them get away with it!

Studies show that businesses lose nearly $10,000 per employee/team member per year due to distractions.

In a company/team of 100 people, that adds up to over $1 million a year.

On average, we are interrupted every 3 minutes* by digital or human factors. What's worse is it takes 11 minutes to regain concentration and focus.

See anything wrong with that math?

It's likely we are never concentrating or in a state of focus!

To give you a sobering wake-up call, calculate your hourly rate and what it is worth in 5-minute increments. Then calculate the cost of every distraction and take that amount out of your wallet -- every time you are distracted.

Example: Income $200,000 = $8.33/5 minutes. If you are distracted once every 15 minutes (not 3 minutes), it costs you $66,666/year.

Distractions not only cause massive losses in productivity, but they also increase stress and decrease motivation. Even short interruptions can have a huge effect on one's ability to complete a task. A 3-second interruption can double** the error rate when an employee's attention is shifted from one task to another.

Here are five thieves in your office to watch out for and how to stop them:

1. The Door Knocking Thief: Favorite line of this thief is, "Hey, you got a minute?" and then stays for 15 minutes talking about the weather, sports or other whines, moans and groans.

Stop Thief! Say no. Ask people to schedule a time to talk so you can be fully focused on them and their issue. Shut your door. Put a sign on the door notifying the time you will be available next so people don't freak out thinking you are never emerging again.

2. The Email Thief: Though email has been around for decades, people still do not know proper etiquette in using it. Occupational spam comes in the form of all the emails you are CC'ed on that you don't need to be.

Stop Thief! Politely ask the offender(s) to only copy you on emails that are absolutely necessary -- and STOP CC'ing others unnecessarily yourself. Set the example. Put the action required in the subject line. Pick up the phone if it's that important.

3. The Chair Thief: Have a chair in your office? If so, it's an invitation for anyone to walk in and plop down. Once they have, extracting them becomes difficult.

Stop Thief! Remove all chairs. (I do not have one in my office.) And when someone enters my office I stand up (subtle indication that this will be brief). If they stay too long I start walking out of my office (less subtle indication that this meeting is over).

4. The Meeting Thief: Are you invited to meetings that you don't need to attend? Constant meetings can suck the life out a business and cause you to lose valuable time that could be spent on your projects.

Stop Thief! Be selective in the meetings you attend. Check the agenda; if you see an item that needs your input, agree to attend the meeting for only that item. Then send the meeting organizer a link to this article.

5. The Phone Thief: Ever been on a conference call that goes on and on and on? Painful, right?

Stop Thief! Dictate when you have a "hard out" and the set amount of time you are available for the call and stick to it.

Distractions cost you and your family's lifestyle tens of thousands of dollars a year. As a business, it costs you millions of dollars annually. You might need to enact martial law in your office to stop the time thieves from robbing you of your better and more prosperous future.

Learning to control your attention, prevent distractions, stay focused and be highly productive in a culture that has AADD (Acquired Attention Deficit Disorder) is THE most important success skill in the 21st century. It will separate the have-nots from the have a whole-lots!

*Source: Study conducted by Gloria Mark, professor at the University of California, Irvine
**Source: Study by the Journal of Experimental Psychology