12 Common Workplace Distractions and How You Can Stay Focused Anyway
Distractions are inevitable, so you need a plan for all the common forms they take.
Whether you’re working from home, your favorite coffee shop, or in a bustling office, distractions have become a familiar fixture of the modern workplace. In some cases, specifically for creative tasks, distractions can be a good thing. That may sound counterintuitive but distractions can help us get out of a rut known as cognitive fixation. We also have an internal urge to be distracted.
However, considering that we get interrupted every 11 minutes and it takes 25 minutes for our brains to refocus on the original task -- workplace distractions should be avoided as much as possible.
According to a survey conducted by Udemy, workplace distractions negatively impact performance, productivity, and potential. What’s more, to compensate for these interruptions, people work faster. A UC Irvine study shows that this increases stress and frustration. And, even a brief interruption doubles an employee’s error rate.
In short, constant distractions don’t just affect the bottom line. They can also be detrimental to an individual's health.
How can you address these workplace distractions before they become an issue?
You need to start by identifying what’s exactly distracting your team. Knowing what the distraction is and how it is happening can help you make a plan to squash these interruptions. Here are 12 of the most common disturbances that you should address in your workplace -- ASAP.
No surprise here. After all, the average person in the U.S. views their phone 52 times a day. And, it’s easy to understand why. We’re bombarded throughout the day with emails, texts, social media notifications, and phone calls. Additionally, we use our phones to jot down reminders, view our calendars, listen to a podcast, or go shopping. No wonder we’re addicted.
Overcoming your reliance on your smartphone is no easy task, but it’s not impossible. The tried and true methods are to put your phone on airplane mode or use the phone's “do not disturb” function. This action can be done on both Android or iPhone. You can also place your phone in another room or leave it in a desk drawer, bag or purse.
Scheduling specific times throughout the day also helps cut down on "during work-hours usage." For example, I turn my phone on silent when I need to focus solely on my work. Usually, this takes around two hours. After I’ve completed my work, I check my phone to make sure I haven’t missed anything important. To ensure that I don’t get too consumed, I only give myself 10 minutes of phone-time before diving back into work.
We send out a lot of emails. How many? Well, in 2017 a staggering 269 billion emails were sent daily worldwide. That email figure is expected to jump to around 333 billion in 2019.
Like your smartphone, there’s also the temptation to stop what you’re doing and check your inbox as soon as a new message arrives. Unfortunately, if you did this all day, how could you possibly get any work done?
The easiest solution is to turn off your email notifications on your phone. You should also close any apps or web browsers containing your email. I also use an app like SaneBox to manage my inbox because it filters out the messages that aren’t important.
The most important thing to remember is if there’s an emergency, you aren’t just going to be notified via email. People will call you or knock on your door. Everything else can wait until you have the scheduled time to go through your inbox.
3. Background noise
Take a moment and really listen to all of the noise going on in an office. People are talking, machines running, phones ringing, and doors opening/closing. That’s not even getting into the annoyances like coughing, loud snacking, or music playing.
Background noise is inevitable. If it becomes too distracting, you should invest in noise-canceling headphones or relocating to a quieter area when you need to give a task 100 percent of your attention. I’ve also found that apps like Noisli can drown-out background noise, while also improving my focus.
4. People interruptions
Like background noise, interruptions from employees, customers, suppliers, and family are unavoidable. Engineers on Quora identified, “shoulder tapping," as one of their most common distractions.
One way around this is keeping your office door closed when you don’t want to be disturbed. For good measure, place a "do not disturb" sign on the door. If you work in an open office space, send signals like wearing headphones and being honest. If someone has a direct and work-related question, give them the answer and move on.
Another tactic is to plan for these interpretations. For example, you could block out in your calendar a period where you're available for pop-ins. I also add some buffer time between tasks and meetings. This way if someone comes to me with a question it’s not going to throw my entire schedule out-of-whack.
While in small doses a little clutter can encourage a creative mind, the fact is that a messy workplace affects your ability to focus and process information. Confusion and disorder are essentially a to-do-list that reminds you of everything that needs to be done. As such, it pulls you away from being present. Over time, this makes you more anxious and stressed.
The fix? Keep your workspace clean and organized. Toss out the items you no longer need. Place paperwork in the appropriate files. Ideally, you should put as much paperwork on the cloud as possible to reduce the number of filing cabinets. Make sure that all of your office supplies have a home and are returned at the end of the day.
Even if you don’t do this daily, you should at least clean your workspace every week. For example, on a Friday afternoon is perfect. You’ve probably already mentally clocked-out for the week, so this is a soft task that can be done quickly.
I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of juggling too many tasks at once. You’re a successful entrepreneur -- why can’t you juggle multiple responsibilities at once? The truth is that our brains are not capable of focusing on more than one thing at a time.
Multitasking doesn’t save time or make you more productive. It actually slows you down. "Switching from task to task, you think you're actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you're actually not, "neuroscientist Earl Miller told NPR. "You're not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly."
Additionally, when you multitask you make more mistakes, reduce creative thinking, and are potentially damaging your brain. Multi-tasking was one of the more difficult bad habits I had to overcome. There are still times when I find myself doing more than one thing at once. I’ve been able to change this habit by creating blocks of time for specific tasks into my calendar app.
For example, I set aside a couple of hours to write this article. During this timeframe, my phone was off, and the office door closed. When my mind began to wonder, I would stand-up and walk around the office for a couple of minutes to clear my head. Sounds simple, but this habit is not easy to break. Leaving my desk for a few minutes encouraged me to only focus on composing this piece instead of doing five other things at the same time. Only then did I jumped into my next priority.
Conversing with your employees, colleagues, and business partners are all essential for building a friendly and collaborative company culture. However, spending too much talking about “Game of Thrones” or gossiping isn’t just a major distraction. Hearsay, itself, can also create a toxic workplace.
As a leader, you just can not allow gossip in the workplace. It needs to be addressed and handled immediately -- even if it’s something dire like letting an employee go. As for friendly chit-chat, you need to set boundaries.
If someone engages you in a conversation, and you’re busy, politely tell them that you currently don’t have time to talk, but you can catch-up with during lunch. And, as mentioned above, you can also send-out signals without saying anything by wearing headphones when you don’t want to be disturbed.
Although you should know what’s going on with your business, being a helicopter boss isn’t just a distraction for your team. They also find it frustrating, unnerving and anxiety-producing.
Instead of encouraging ownership and letting your team do what you hired them to do if you’re continually interrupting them by obsessing over every detail. Just imagine that you’re in the model of a project and your boss barges in pointing out everything that you did incorrectly. How productive do you think you’ll be? Disruptions stifle creativity, self-growth, and destroys the trust between you and your employees.
Giving-up some control is never easy for entrepreneurs. But, you need to let your team do their thing. If you are not a micro-manager, it doesn’t mean thoroughly checking out. It means keeping tabs on everyone and guiding them without interfering with their work throughout the day.
It’s almost impossible to focus when your stomach is growling. Unfortunately, we satisfy this craving with junk food because it’s quick and readily available.
It takes a lot of willpower to avoid the vending machine or call-in a pizza delivery. But, you need healthier options that will eliminate your hunger while keeping you focused and energized.
Stack your office with healthier snack options. For instance, I always have almonds nearby. Whenever I feel famished, I just snack on a handful of almonds. I’ve also started looking into options like Snacknation who will deliver healthy snacks to the office.
10. Needlessly strict policies.
“When it comes to culture, a lot of employers like to enforce a set of policies to encourage employees to arrive on time,” wrote Andre Lovie in a previous Entrepreneur article. “Punctuality is obviously important to consider in order to run a successful organization.”
“However, overly strict policies can be more stress-inducing. If employees are worried and hurry during their traffic-heavy commute, they’re starting off the day on a bad foot,” continued Lovie. “This can hurt overall employee morale, especially for those who travel long distances five days a week. They may be showing up to work already drained and frustrated, as a result.”
If you’re in a leadership position, Lovie suggests that you, “focus more on building a culture that celebrates employees who are productive and ‘A’ players. Strong message employers can send is that punctuality is important, but what’s more important is performance.”
Also, you could offer employees a flex schedule where they can arrive at work later in the morning to avoid the hectic commute. Another option would be allowing them to work remotely occasionally. If you’re an employee, you could ask your boss if any of these are possible resolutions to your hectic commute.
Meetings are notorious for being unproductive and distracting time-suckers. Time is lost because people are pulled away from their work and then forced to sit in a meeting for an hour -- even though they don’t have to be in attendance.
Before scheduling a meeting, think long and hard if it’s necessary. In most cases, you may be able to skip the meeting and communicate with your team via email, Slack, or a project management tool like Trello. If a meeting is needed, only invite critical stakeholders, create an agenda, and keep it as short as possible.
Another option is to set aside one day per week when meetings are not scheduled, such as the famous “No Meeting Wednesday.” Having a day with no meetings each week allows everyone to work on their most important tasks without being interrupted.
12. Decision fatigue
As explained in a New York Times article, “No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t decide decision without paying a biological price.” What’s the price? Usually, this is being unable to focus or take action. Just think about how well you can concentrate on a task when you’re mentally exhausted?
The possible fix is to reduce the number of decisions that you make daily. Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg did this by wearing the same outfits every day. Others have found success by prepping their meals for the week, delegating tedious responsibilities, and automating specific tasks like canned email responses and scheduling appointments.
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