We are constantly bombarded with distractions at work. Emails, phone notifications, instant messaging, meetings, “quick questions”, loud coworkers, and phone calls all contribute to our inability to stay focused.
In response, we ask ourselves how we can be more efficient, or what we need to learn to be less distracted. But the best place to start is by limiting distractions as much as possible – for yourself and your coworkers. Here are 8 office distractions and how to fix them.
Who causes office distractions?
Work is a shared space, and office distractions are caused by everyone. Your coworkers aren’t solely to blame; your actions could also be distracting for others. We all need to be mindful of how we contribute to the problem, and what steps we can take to limit the needless “noise”.
Though you may think that classical opera is the best music to help your concentration, your coworkers might not feel the same way. It is fine to have soft music playing in your area as long as the volume won’t interrupt anyone else’s train of thought. Keep the volume turned down to a private level, or wear headphones.
We are always constantly available, thanks to our smartphone. They are a blessing when it comes to connecting us, and a curse when it comes to distracting us. We are hardwired to pay attention to every ping and notification that pops up. Its time to disconnect a little.
Mute all your notifications, so that you can only see what is happening in an app only if you open it. This stops your attention wavering when your smartphone lights up or makes a noise. If you put your phone on silent, any notifications you can’t mute don’t grab your attention, and won’t distract those around you.
3. Interruptions by coworkers
Coworkers interrupt each other all day long with questions they need answered. While the information gathered may be critical to someone else, it often breaks your own concentration. On average it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to you back on track with your task, so despite it being “just a second” of your time, a few of these interruptions can skew your entire day.
If you work in an office, you probably have the luxury of closing your door and putting a “do not disturb” sign on it. In a cubical that isn’t an option. You need a universal signal in your office that lets everyone know you needed a time out from interruptions. Try using office traffic lights on your computer. Green signals you are free, yellow says you are busy but can be interrupted, while red asks for zero office distractions. If everyone knows and uses the same signal, there can be no mistake in what you are asking for.
4. Micromanaging supervisors
When your manager is interrupting you 5 times a day with questions, its hard to maintain your focus. While this is one of the more difficult office distractions to overcome, it can be done. Instead of waiting for them to interrupt you, try constantly communicating with them on the status of the projects you are working on. By keeping them informed, you may minimize their need to micromanage you – resulting in fewer interruptions through your day.
Email notifications trigger an automatic response in us. No matter if it is a request from a CEO or a newsletter subscription, we react the same way – by checking it immediately. It becomes habit forming, to the point where we obsessively check our emails every 5 minutes just in case we missed anything.
Un-train yourself from this work trap! Start by setting your email to only receive emails at certain times. Alternatively, only check your email at set times during the day, and keep it closed the rest of the time to avoid these office distractions.
Before you schedule, invite, or accept a meeting request, the very first thing you need to ask yourself is, “Why are we meeting?” While meetings can help solidify an idea, move a project forward, and may even save your company millions – it could also just be a giant waste of your time. You may feel special being in a meeting with the CEO if you are a junior employee. But if you aren’t going to be able to contribute to that meeting, or learn anything, then you shouldn’t be there.
The other big culprit is any last minute meeting your manager may decide to call on a whim. Try extract yourself from as many as possible. Or see if it can be scheduled for a time the next day so that everyone has time to prepare.
Let’s not lie to ourselves, we all talk to our coworkers about non-work things. You spend 40 hours a week with them – it’s going to happen. But what if the only time it was acceptable for a co-worker to stop by was between 10 am – 11 am?
During this time everyone would be free to stop by for chats, and you could spend that hour doing the tasks that truly aren’t affected by office distractions. You get to catch up, while mundane tasks – like unsubscribing from unnecessary emails – that normally get pushed off actually get done.
8. Social media
People often think that Facebook and Twitter are office distractions. Some companies even go so far as to block or monitor these sites at work. Saying that work can’t be don’t because of Facebook is a little ridiculous. 10 years ago, no one cared if employees took a 15 minute smoke break. We should view social media as the modern-day equivalent.
It is not checking social media that’s the issue, it’s the amount of time you spend doing it that’s problematic. Apps like Trackr on Google Chrome, calculate how much of your browser time you spend on different websites, so you can identify areas to cut down on. StayFocusd limits your access to time-wasting sites that you choose to restrict access to for certain periods, or limit the number of visits you are allowed to certain websites each day.
Try help yourself with as many tricks as you can to maintain your focus and keep social media distractions to a minimum.
The bottom line
Office distractions are always going to be there, but how you react to them is up to you. The more office distractions you have, the less productive you are likely to be. The key is to minimise as many as possible, or remove them completely. Become the focused employee you want to be.
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Blog post link: Office distractions and how to save yourself
I write weekly blogs for the recruitment company I work for. I am always working on making better content to post.