Getting distracted is one of the fastest ways to kill your productivity at work. Unfortunately, most offices are teeming with potential distractions. Here are some of the most common workplace distractions to be wary of and how to handle them.
Everyone gets distracted
At least 98% of workers report that they get distracted at least 3 to 4 times throughout the workday. Getting distracted by a new noise or flurry of movement is normal, but when distractions become sustained, they can have a serious negative impact on your productivity. When you’re distracted, you likely make twice as many errors as you do when you’re focused. Once you’ve been distracted, it can take more than 20 minutes to fully refocus on what you’re doing. According to some estimates, companies lose out on 720 hours of productivity each year per person working.
It’s unrealistic to never get distracted—we are only human, after all! The goal is to identify the distractions that cause the most disruption to work productivity and develop strategies to minimize or avoid them.
Constantly being online
There are very few jobs that can be done without an internet connection. Most of the applications and programs businesses rely on require some kind of network connection. Many workers use email, messaging services, and video conferencing platforms to share information and updates with their colleagues. Going digital has made many of our jobs easier, but it also puts more distractions at our fingertips. Our phones are constantly pinging with notifications from social media, email, text messages, and calls. We can look like we are paying attention to a meeting on Zoom while actually doing our Christmas shopping in another tab. We can stream an unlimited variety of entertainment on any device with WiFi. If you’re bored with a task at work, there are literally a million other options available right at your fingertips.
You can even be distracted by other work tasks. Constantly checking your email when you are supposed to be working on another project for work is a distraction that decreases your productivity. Maintaining a steady focus on a project allows you to finish quicker than going back and forth between your work and your email. It’s better to set aside an uninterrupted block of time to work on nothing but your main project and then check your emails when you finish. Most messages can wait an hour or two.
Solution: Lock away devices and turn on controls
One of the easiest ways to prevent yourself from being distracted by notifications is to turn off your personal phone or silence notifications and place it out of your reach. If you have a work phone, silence it and put it face-down so you cannot see when new emails or messages come in. Many devices now have advanced Do Not Disturb settings that allow you to choose which notifications you can receive while you’re working. This gives you more flexibility to make sure you are available if a coworker really needs to reach you while minimizing distractions.
If you still find yourself struggling to stay off non-work-related apps, there are apps and browser extensions that will block you from visiting certain websites or using certain apps for a set period of time. There are a variety of different options for different operating systems, and most are fairly simple to use. Some examples include Cold Turkey, StayFocused, SelfControl, Focus, and Freedom. Some may require passwords to bypass the blockers, deterring you from procrastination and multitasking. Others, like SelfControl and Focus in Hardcore mode, do not let you bypass blockers before your time is up for any reason, even if you restart your computer. StayFocused allows you a set amount of time on specified websites each day, and once the limit is reached, you will not be able to visit that site again until the next day.
Chatty or gossiping coworkers
There are a number of reasons why you should focus on building positive relationships with your colleagues: better morale, increased team and individual productivity, and opportunities for networking, to name a few. However, keep in mind that you are at work to do a job, not to socialize. Talking to your coworkers about subjects not directly related to your job should never get in the way of actually performing your duties. A 2016 survey from CareerBuilder reported nearly one-third of workers get distracted by interacting with their coworkers. Beyond friendly social interaction, gossip can also cause distractions by creating a toxic work environment. Gossip can lead to a “cliquey” office and prevent coworkers from working well together, impacting group productivity.
If you work in an open office space, you might not even need to be directly involved in the conversation to be distracted by it. General noise from meetings, breakrooms, and other daily activities can make it hard to sustain your focus on your work.
Solution: Headphones and boundaries
One of the best solutions is to close your office door if you have one, and maybe consider adding a “Do Not Disturb” hanger. Not only will this prevent your coworkers from dropping by without warning, but it can also help stifle other office noises. If you work in a cubicle or an open office space, you may still want to invest in a sign, even if it’s one you’ve printed yourself on standard paper, that you can hang up when you especially do not want to be interrupted. You may also add the times you’ve blocked off for productivity to your calendar and set your availability to “busy.” Headphones can help block out noises and signal to others that you do not want to be disturbed. Just make sure whatever you’re listening to is not a distraction. Music may be better than an audiobook, podcast, or show. If you find music with lyrics distracting, try to find an instrumental track you like. Some people find they work well to movie, television, or video game soundtracks. There are also several options for white noise, brown noise, pink noise, or nature sounds. If all else fails, foam ear plugs are readily available and block out noise without adding additional stimulus for you to process.
Poor Work-Life Balance
You might assume that the more time you devote to your work, the more productive you’ll be. However, studies show that the opposite is true. The term “burnout” has become a popular talking point over the course of the pandemic. It refers to chronic work-related stress that results in constant mental and sometimes physical exhaustion. This can severely impact your problem-solving capabilities, attention span, and productivity. A major cause of burnout is an overwhelming workload that prevents you from getting adequate amounts of sleep, eating properly, spending time with loved ones, relaxing, and participating in hobbies. Though you may be spending more hours of your day “working,” you get less work done.
Not having the time to attend to your physical health can not only make you sick but can also make you less productive. Ever noticed how it’s harder to focus on an empty stomach? Your brain needs oxygenated glucose to stay alert and focused. Some foods take a while to break down into glucose, leading to a sustained release of energy that helps you stay focused for long periods of time. Other foods break down quickly and only provide a short burst of energy that quickly fates. High-fat meals are harder to digest, diverting oxygen away from the brain. Lack of sleep can also slow your reactions, hurt your ability to focus, and lead to more extreme emotional reactions. When your brain is sleep deprived and not functioning optimally, it is more likely you will become distracted.
Solution: Carve out time each day for self-care (and learn to say no!)
The best way to prevent burnout is to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, incorporating physical activity into your daily routine, and spending time on the things you enjoy. For many busy workers, this is easier said than done. It is important to set boundaries between work and your personal life. Don’t bring work home with you, and avoid working overtime except in emergencies. In general, working as close to 40 hours a week as possible—and always less than 50 hours—is best for your health and well-being. If you don’t have time to go to the gym before or after work and still get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep, take a break at least once a day to go for a walk or do some light stretching and yoga. Exercise can help combat fatigue, reduce stress, and improve your sleep quality, all of which improve work performance. To make sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, try setting aside some time each weekend to meal prep healthy meals that you can easily grab and take to work for lunch or reheat when you get home for dinner.