Research suggests that it can take 10 to 15 minutes to recover your focus after being distracted from a task. With so many distractions in the modern workplace, how can we ever be expected to get the job done?
Here are 4 helpful tips for dealing with distractions at work
1. Set aside time in your schedule
Interruptions aren’t very polite. Emails, phone calls and instant messages just turn up unannounced, at any time of the day, and always expect you to be available to respond.
If these types of interruptions are stopping you being productive, consider allocating set times in your day for dealing with them. For example, check your emails in the morning, after lunch and at the end of the day – and, of course, close your inbox and turn off alerts at all other times. If it’s possible, use voicemail for incoming calls or ask someone to take messages outside your set times. These small steps will allow you to better focus on the task in hand.
2. Work around your ‘optimum focus’ time
If your morning routine involves repeated pressing of the ‘snooze’ button and you can’t speak to anyone before your third coffee, you probably aren’t what we’d call a ‘morning person’. But, seriously, when you are planning your work schedule, it makes sense to take into account your energy levels at different times of day. If your optimum focus time is in the morning, consider planning in your most challenging work to a morning slot. Do the opposite if you consider you’re at your best later in the day.
If the nature of your job allows it, working from home gives you an opportunity to avoid workplace distractions, not least the background chatter of colleagues. To maximise your optimum focus time, why not consider working at home for a couple of hours at the start or end of the day? If the distractions at home are not greater than those at work, that is!
3. Don’t multitask
You’d think that multitasking would help you to get more done but the opposite can be true. By all means, drink a coffee whilst reading your emails but where your work requires a high focus, plan in one task at a time. Structure your ‘to do’ list so that you know what order to tackle tasks in and how ‘complete’ each task needs to be before you move on to the next. And try never to write a reply to a client’s email whilst in another meeting.
4. Set goals to overcome ‘internal distractions’
Internal distractions are interruptions that, in effect, you are causing to yourself. Everyone is different and some of the external distractions we’ve mentioned may actually be internal distractions for you.
Internal distractions include boredom (the reason you flit from one task to another or browse the web) worrying, self-doubt, procrastination and wanting to try to fix other people’s problems. All of these are barriers to you getting through your work schedule. It can be helpful to step back and consider why you are allowing yourself to be distracted.
The key to overcoming internal distractions is to set goals. Before leaving work at the end of each day, think what you would like to achieve the following day and the time you will give to each task. Focus on two or three important tasks and set realistic goals.
Sometimes a distraction isn’t a distraction
If you are getting distracted by the same thing every day and you can’t eliminate it, minimise it or delegate it, it’s probably not a distraction but something actually should be dealing with. Ensure you give it time to be looked at on your daily schedule.