With a Little Focus You Can Turn Workplace Distractions to Your Advantage

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Focus, focus -- but the person in the office across the hall is blasting Iggy Azalea, and it’s impossible to tune out the high-pitched chatter in the room next door. How is anyone getting any work done with all of these distractions?

It’s true, the average worker cannot go more than 11 minutes without being distracted, according to research by Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine. But are all distractions really bad?

Actually, believe it or not, distractions are good for the brain. Why? Distractions can work like a reset button. When the mind experiences an overload of to-do items floating around, attention becomes split. This has the same affect on the brain as multitasking, a known productivity killer.

Related: 8 Tips for Finding Focus and Nixing Distractions

Distractions can be helpful, and even improve engagement in the workplace. Here are a few tips on managing workplace distractions and how to use them to improve productivity:

Choose when to be distracted

With today’s obsession with mobile technology and always being connected, it’s easy to see why distractions can be labeled “the bad guy.” However, research suggests that engagement has less to do with the presence of distractions, than when the distractions occur and our control over that.

A study from Psychology Today measured the effect texting has on student performance. Students watched videos of psychology courses that would be accompanied by a graded test at the end. Researchers told the students they would receive text messages throughout and to answer them. One group received eight messages, another four and another didn’t receive any.

As suspected, students who received only four tested better than those who received eight. However, researchers noticed another correlation. Students who answered the texts immediately tested far worse than those who waited a few minutes to respond to the texts.

The students who waited to respond were using what psychologists refer to as “metacognition,” which is the brain's understanding of when focus is necessary and when it is not. As their research found, the use of metacognition or knowing when to allow distraction, improves performance.

Go for a walk

Sometimes, there’s nothing better for the brain than to step away from everything and take a walk outside. Walking increases productivity.

The University of Minnesota conducted a study where participants were given workstations with treadmills. Researchers measured productivity based on surveys that looked at quantity and quality of performance and co-worker interaction.

Related: Turn the Distraction of Fantasy Sports Into an Engagement Opportunity

Walking increased the participants daily activity expenditure by 8 percent with the health bonus of burning more calories.

Look at cute photos

A Hiroshima University study found that looking at cute images before performing a series of tasks increased accuracy by inspiring careful behavior. A nurturing instinct that focuses our attention kicks in when we perceive delicate things.

Participants in the study performed far better on the tasks after viewing images of baby animals than those who looked at images of adult animals and appealing food.

Take a nap

That’s right, in the midst of chaos and important deadlines, sleep can boost productivity. A new Journal Sleep study proves taking a 10-minute power nap sharpens focus. Upon waking, the mind is refreshed and ready to go.

Celebrate a birthday

Think that major deadline takes priority over recognizing your employee’s birthday? Think again. Employee recognition programs ultimately improve productivity by increasing job satisfaction and overall employee happiness. In fact, research from Aon proves recognition is one of the top drivers of employee engagement.

If that isn’t enough, a Deloitte study found that companies with modern employee-recognition programs have 31 percent less turnover than companies that don’t. Taking 20 minutes to celebrate a birthday could save a company quite a bit of time and money through employee retention.

Use mobile apps

Though mobile apps have been deemed productivity’s newest enemy, especially among millennials, they do help everyone stay connected. Effective communication increases engagement in the workplace. Everyone benefits from knowing who is responsible for what tasks and when they are due.

Instead of banning phone use, use the power of connectivity to the team’s advantage. Choose a project management app through which everyone can communicate, update tasks, share documents and keep track of due dates. Everyone will feel more organized and in-the-know.

Distractions don’t deserve the bad reputation they’ve been given, at least not when they can be used to help reset minds to focus on a chaotic workload. By choosing when and how to be distracted, we can get the mind back on track.

Related: How to Stay Focused: Train Your Brain