One of my readers mentioned that she struggles with distractions. Since I’m unsure if these distractions are at work or at home, this week will start a two part series on dealing with distractions.
For this post, we are dealing with distractions at work.
Distraction: Chatty Coworkers and Office Noise
Your coworker, Tina, stops by your desk and immediately starts showing you some videos of her cat chasing its tail. She doesn’t ask if you are in the middle of something first, just bursts in and expects you to enjoy them as much as she does. You lose half an hour pretending you are interested so as not to offend her, but you really just want to scream at her to get the fuck out of your office.
If you are comfortable enough with your co-worker, you could have a direct conversation, but maybe just a gentle, “Okay, I have to get this fill-in-the-blank done.” and turning away is usually enough to end a conversation. Have a door? Shut it. If you don’t have a door, wear headphones even when you are not listening to anything.
Speaking of headphones, they are your best defense to block out general office noise. Don’t feel like you need to buy fancy noise canceling ones, any will do. It varies by person on what is best to listen to, so play around. Some like listening to audio books and some can only listen to music with no words. You can even find apps that will play just white noise.
If you have the ability and if your supervisor approves, you could move into a conference room or other open area to isolate yourself to knock out a specific project. It’s worth asking if you are really having a hard time concentrating.
Now that Outlook has those nice little pop ups whenever you receive a new email, I’ve really become its slave. There is no way to ignore them. So I read the first part of the message or see who it is from and then usually stop what I am doing to take care of whatever it is. Even just firing off a quick response has stopped my momentum and interrupted my concentration.
Obviously the first thing I should do is turn off those pesky pop-ups. Also, if I am working on something that is going to need my undivided attention, I should block time on my calendar and make sure that all my availability options show that I am Busy. I can even set my desk phone to Do Not Disturb, although it’s just as easy to look quickly at the display so I know who to call back when I finish what I’m working on.
Basically to increase productivity, email should only be checked certain times each day. Two or three times a day is more than enough to keep up with what is going on. If there is an emergency, people will call you. It’s more efficient to knock out emails in one session.
Resist checking email first thing when you arrive to work. Have an idea of what you want to get done each day, and knock out whatever is most challenging first. It’s easy to throw your day off track by responding first to what awaits you in email. Which may result in the thing you really wanted to get off your plate hanging around for another day.
Distraction: Cell Phones
Deloitte research has found that on average people check their phones 47 times a day!
Try putting it somewhere that is not easily accessible. Stuff it in a drawer or keep it in your purse. Treat it like email and only check it at specific times during the day.
If you do leave it on your desk, at least turn off notifications for social media and email.
Really want to disconnect? Your cell phone has a ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode as well. It can be found under Settings/Sound & Notification (for Galaxy phones – Settings/Sound & Vibration).
Distraction: Social Media
Speaking of social media, technically that should be checked during non working hours, but we all sneak in a peak here and there. If you are super addicted, then again, set a specific time, say only during lunch or your breaks.
You are not going to miss anything important if you stop constantly checking it on your phone or computer. You may even find more exciting things to do with your time if you start to wean yourself off of it.
Based on your position in your company, you may have no influence in making these any less of a time suck. However, admins and meeting organizers, there are a ton of things you can do.
Make sure meetings have a clear agenda and a moderator to keep them on track. Record any action items and assign them. Follow up the meeting by sending out minutes and any action items as soon as possible.
Multi-tasking has been proven to slow down productivity by 40%, so it shouldn’t even be a thing. Focus on one thing at a time and work on increasing your prioritization skills instead.
Schedule out your day in the morning or at the end of the day prior. Select three things that you want to accomplish that work day. These are your priorities. Make sure to evaluate any other tasks that come up as to whether you can work them in with your three things to get done that day or if they can wait. If something can’t wait, go ahead and replace one of your three with the new task, but make sure you address the displaced task the next day.
If your desk is a mess, take some time to clean it up and remove everything but items that contribute to your work. Taking up to half an hour to get rid of the clutter will save you that much time or more throughout the day.
Instead of partaking in the donuts in the breakroom, munch on quality snacks that will actually fuel you and keep you going for a longer time with no possibility of a sugar crash. Strive for items high in protein, fiber, healthy fats and complex carbs. Keep trail mix, fruit, and KIND bars in your desk for a nutritional quick fix if you get hungry but need to keep going.
Distraction: Losing Focus
Make a pact with yourself to work on a specific task at a specific time. Keeping what you want to achieve during that time in focus will make it easier to tell others that you are busy and to refrain from giving in to other types of distractions.
If you hit a snag while working (need to research something or figure out a problem), leave it and continue working on whatever you can do. Stopping ruins your momentum. Coming back later to the issue also gives an opportunity for the resolution to come to you on its own.
Work breeds stress. You are working on deadlines, forced to work with people you may not enjoy and maybe you don’t even like what you do period. Stress exists with any job. The only thing you can do is minimize its impact.
Don’t let things fester. If something is really bothering you, go and try to talk it out. If it is out of your control, let it go. Develop friendships with people at work. You need the support of others to feel more at ease.
Take regular breaks during your workday. Go for short walks, stand up and stretch, and avoid staring at your screen for long periods of time.
If any of your tasks can be delegated, do it. Also, resist perfection. Most of the time good enough is good enough.
Taking better care of yourself helps to reduce the level of your stress. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat more Omega 3 fatty acids (fish, seafood, nuts and seeds) to improve overall mood. Cultivate a more positive mindset by practicing affirmations, meditation or being grateful.
Humans can only make so many decisions a day before they start suffering from fatigue, so prepare ahead of time to cut down the number of decisions you make each day. This is why successful people tend to wear the same thing or eat the same thing. Eliminate as many decisions as possible.
Click here to read my previous post on doing a weekly prep.
Just implementing a plan of action to avoid distractions will make you feel more in control of your day. With practice and consistency, your productivity will soar.
“Aw, Tina, I’m sure those videos of your cat chasing its tail are super cute, but I have to get this assignment out this morning. Sorry.”
See how easy that was.