Identifying the pesky “time bandits” that are stealing time from your distracted developers, and solutions to overcome workplace distractions and facilitate a focused and productive environment.


Your team is distracted.
The constant barrage of emails, pinging from instant messages, and talking at the watercooler seemed harmless at first- until all of a sudden you realize these workplace distractions can eat away up to 6 hours of billable time per day.
These distractions are called “time bandits.” They’re thieves that steal a minute here and there until those minutes add up to hours and days.
And they don’t just steal your employees’ time – they actually destroy their job performance.
workplace distractions
A study at the University of California, Irvine gave three groups of people a short reading comprehension test. Test-takers who were interrupted or who were told they might be interrupted did 20% worse on the test than those allowed to complete it free of distractions.
Workplace distractions fragment your developers’ attention, which slows them down and decreases the quality of their work. Fight these sneaky time bandits with time locks, or schedule blocks protected from the usual interruptions. Here’s how to create systems that banish time bandits company-wide.

Lock Out Co-Workers for Interruption-Free Working

The phrase, “Do you have a minute?” is one of the most dreaded questions you can ask a developer.
It sounds harmless enough, but “Sure, I have a minute, what do you need?” quickly turns into…
3 hours later
Ouch.
When you ask for help, your developers don’t want to say no – but it has a devastating impact on their workflow.
It’s not just the distraction itself or even the 25 minutes it takes to get back on track afterwards. The quality of your developers’ work deteriorates with every distraction.
This chart depicts that the time lost isn’t just the length of the distraction, it’s the time it takes to get back to a normal output afterward:
productivity chart

The Solution: Establish Company-Wide Time Locks

A company-wide time lock aligns your team’s productive hours so that no one becomes an accidental distraction.
At a small startup, it’s pretty easy to put in a little extra effort to coordinate schedules.
Start with a small experiment. Choose a small block of time when everyone in your development team agrees to shut out the interruptions. Maybe the best time is right away in the morning, or maybe afternoon is better, depending on the flexible hours developers tend to keep.
Set the times and duration of time locks based on what’s helpful to your office. Sending out a calendar invite that blocks off the time will remind your employees to take the policy seriously, and afterward, you can send out a memo to get feedback about their experience.
Company-wide time locks aren’t meant to police productivity, but to dedicate focused time for hard work instead. Scheduling dedicated social times like snack breaks keeps the fun in your developer’s’ days – without making them feel like you’re looking over their shoulders.

Lock Out Social Media Distractions for Increased Focus

avoiding distractions at work
Time lost due to distractions from social media cost companies $4,452 a year per person, on average. Why so much? Those social media distractions ping once every 10.5 minutes on average, which is practically inescapable.
Being distracted by social media doesn’t mean your developers lack willpower.
It’s easy to get distracted because social media is designed to be addictive – and today we’re learning just how deeply it’s changing the way our brain works.
Compulsively checking Facebook, Twitter and other platforms creates a “stimulation compulsion loop,” where your developers feed their impulses instead of working towards their goals.
how to avoid internet distractions
The reward of new content – whether it’s the latest tweet from Hacker News or a push notification from a thread on Reddit – releases dopamine, which in turn makes brains want more dopamine. It also activates the same part of the brain that makes someone addicted to smoking.
While getting sucked into social media is totally normal behavior, it prevents your employees from being productive.

The Solution: Social Media Free Time Locks

Your developers need long stretches of time to code – so a break from social media will be a welcome initiative. Helping your employees spend time free from notifications will make them feel liberated, not limited. But you can’t ban social media without seeming like a dictator. Asking your employees to use an app like RescueTime, which tracks where they spend their time online, will give them a better idea of how they’re using their day.
tool to track time rescuetime
RescueTime is a personal app, so your developers won’t feel like you’re hovering over their shoulder and “grading” their productivity. But you can offer rewards-like a free lunch or a gift card for tech gear on Amazon to whoever reports the highest productivity score each month to incentivize them to use it.

Lock Out “Small Fires” for Long-Term Achievements

Inbound marketing team using Teamwork Projects
Your startup is a well-oiled machine, and everyone has a specific role to keep it running. But getting caught up in the day-to-day rush can make it hard for your employees to pick up their heads and focus on your startup’s long-term goals.
Getting your company aligned for the long term is more than just talking about goals at all-hands-those goals have to be a part of your developers’ everyday life. Otherwise, they’ll get lost in the shuffle.
This phenomenon where your team jumps to fix short-term problems and loses sight of the larger goals is known as priority dilution. Shawn Karol Sandy from The Selling Agency explains that people who focus on the small fires they think will “burn the house down,” and then never actually spend time “building the house up.
In real life, priority dilution happens when your developers spend hours on a tiny bug fix instead of spending that time on rolling out a new feature. While it’s easy to fall into this time quicksand, the effect can really hold back company progress.

The Solution: Team Time Locks with a Mission

Pareto’s principle (or the 80/20 rule) states that people should spend 80% of their time on the 20% of tasks that are most important.
Encouraging this mentality in amongst your team will help your startup grow more quickly.
the 80/20 rule
[source]
One way to maintain focus on the important tasks is to establish dedicated task time locks, which are set times when your whole team works on one collective goal.
For example, having dedicated time from 3 to 5 PM to prioritize a specific feature release eliminates your developers’ impulses to put out those small fires.
You wouldn’t implement these time locks every day, but having the whole company spend a scheduled, coordinated two-hour work session each week to push forward on the same task will force them to prioritize it.

Conclusion: Time Locks Reclaim Productivity

Banishing time bandits isn’t about micromanaging, it’s just knowing what steals focus from your team each day.

As you implement these time locks company-wide, your team will become more aware of how time locks promote productivity.
The real gift of time locks is not that they help you manage your developers; they’ll help your developers manage workplace distractions themselves.