When you think of workplace distractions, the first thing you imagine is that receptionist who is always texting at her desk or has her social media account open on the computer all day long. In many cases, however, the biggest distractions you’ll face at work aren’t the result of procrastination or off-task behaviors. You can waste a huge chunk of your day engaging in activities that are work-related, but ultimately unproductive. To avoid being caught in that trap and improve your work performance, make sure these key distractions aren’t impacting your work day.
Distraction #1: Your Email
Do you have email notifications turned on for your phone, tablet, or computer? Do you leave your email open in the background all day, where you’ll notice immediately if a new message comes in? If so, stop! This is one of the most potent distractions in your day. In some cases, it can take as much as 25 minutes to get back on task and working at peak efficiency following a distraction. If you get an email every hour or so throughout the day, that’s a lot of lost work time!
Instead, if you aren’t waiting for an important email (that’s an email that’s genuinely important and that you expect to come in at any time), leave your email closed for the majority of the day. Try setting specific times when you’ll check your email. It might be the first thing you do in the morning, the last thing you do before leaving for lunch or the first thing you do when you get back, and the last thing you do when you leave for the day.
Distraction #2: Your Phone
Do you use your phone throughout your work day? Do you regularly find yourself receiving critical texts from coworkers or calls from clients that can impact and change the flow of your workday? If not, there’s no reason to keep your phone on you. Shut it in your desk drawer or turn it to silent—completely silent, without even the vibrate function turned on. If you are expecting critical calls from coworkers or clients, try to schedule them so that you know when they’re coming and can arrange your day accordingly.
Worried that you’ll miss something important, whether it’s a call from your spouse or a message from someone in another department? Schedule your day to allow time for “phone breaks.” Plan to take a 5-10 minute break every hour to check your phone. Use that time to reply to calls and texts, then go back to your productive schedule.
Distraction #3: Skipping the To Do List
One of the biggest distractions you’ll face in the workplace is your decision to tackle work as it comes across your desk, ignoring big projects and small details until they become serious concerns. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks that you need to take care of. The solution? Plan out your day before you ever get started. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the day to write out a To Do list. Include the things that you need to get done that day as well as tasks that you need to accomplish or that you need to work on if you have the time. The simple act of writing out that list and checking off items as you get them done will help you prioritize your day more efficiently—and that means less time spent on tasks that don’t contribute to your day.
Distraction #4: People in the Office
You can’t get away from your coworkers completely—and you don’t want to. Some of them, you genuinely like. Others, you tolerate avoiding being labeled “that antisocial coworker.” Whether you like your coworkers or not, however, you can’t spend all day talking to them when you have a stack of projects waiting on your desk! Try some of these techniques for eliminating coworker distractions:
- If you’re lucky enough to have your own office, shut the door when you need to get away and focus.
- Be clear about your needs. Learn to turn people away politely even when they’re persistent.
- Don’t let yourself get dragged into a conversation when you have somewhere else you need to be. Practice conversation-ending tactics if necessary.
- Make time for coworkers outside your designated work time, whether that means going out for drinks after work, hanging out in the break room for your lunch, or attending post-work events.
Distraction #5: Multitasking
Doing multiple things at the same time makes you feel more productive. Whether you’re messaging a co-worker to set up a meeting while simultaneously writing an email or checking out an article while participating in a conference call, the more you can do at once, the better your time has been spent, right? Unfortunately, multitasking can have some substantial consequences. The more often you switch tasks, the higher your stress levels. You’ll also feel more pressed for time and struggle to feel as though you’ve accomplished everything in your day.
Learning to stop multitasking and start concentrating on one task at a time takes a great deal of mental discipline. You’ll naturally want to skip from one task to the next, chipping away at your responsibilities a little bit at a time instead of accomplishing them in large chunks. When you do learn to set multitasking to the side, however, you’ll discover that you feel less stressed about your workload, which will make it easier to face your increasing To Do list each day.
Distraction #6: A Messy Workspace
There are some people who can live in chaos and still know where everything is. Their desks are piled high, papers are overflowing, and they still know exactly how to lay hands on that important document that they need for a meeting. Those people, however, are comparatively rare. Most people need an element of organization in their lives to find the vital pieces of paperwork they need to accomplish tasks throughout their day.
Learning to be organized takes time and effort. You’ll have to discipline yourself to file papers away when you’re done with them, get used to tossing things out when you no longer need them, and taking a few minutes at the beginning or end of every day to straighten things up and prepare for tomorrow. The reward, however, is decreased distraction throughout your entire work day.
Distraction #7: Internet Browsing
You don’t want to think of yourself as one of those people who frequently falls down the rabbit hole and gets lost in the world of the internet. In fact, you’ve worked very hard not to let that happen. You don’t check your personal social media accounts while you’re at the office, nor do you watch that funny video that everyone has seen on company time. Unfortunately, the distraction of internet browsing doesn’t just apply to personal browsing.
Have you ever found yourself reading an article about your industry or checking out a news source, only to look up thirty minutes later and realize that you’ve followed the chain of articles to something that no longer resembles your original topic? Do you do excessive amounts of research before making a purchase, whether for yourself or the company? All of these are distractions that can eat your productivity.
Set aside your browsing habits. If you go online, commit to accomplishing the task that you’re there to accomplish, then close out your browser again. Discipline yourself to finish a task and move on rather than letting the internet suck you in.
Improving your performance at work is a process. You won’t be able to eliminate every distraction in the workplace overnight. The good news is, you can learn to set aside distractions, increase your productivity, and stay on task throughout your day.