Distractions at work, whether they’re related to your job or stem from personal matters, can affect your focus, motivation and productivity. You may even make mistakes when you’re distracted and jeopardize your job. Handle distractions and get back to work with several tips.
Identify and Combat Your Most Common Distractions
Do any of these common distractions sound familiar?
- On the way to your desk in the morning, you stop in the break room for a cup of coffee and end up talking to co-workers for 20 minutes.
- Intending to send one email after lunch, you emerge from your inbox an hour later.
- A co-worker frequently stops by your desk to chat about your current presentation project, which disrupts your train of thought.
- You feel tension and secondhand stress because of an ongoing interoffice feud.
- Your pet is sick, and you can’t stop worrying about it.
After you identify the distractions that most often affect you, you can plan ways to reduce or avoid these distractions. For example, you could bring coffee from home and avoid the busy break room or commit to checking email only twice a day.
Know the Dangers of Multitasking
The human brain features a network of structures related to focus. One network, default mode, analyzes the past, plans for the future and reflects on the present. A second network, direct attention, helps you stay on task.
Every distraction you face returns your brain to default mode, and it could take you 20 minutes to return to direct attention. While you may think that multitasking helps you get more done, each distraction you experience affects your productivity and potentially results in hours of wasted time each day.
Shift Your Thinking to Attentiveness
Thoughts about a project that’s due later this week or trouble at home may momentarily draw your attention and focus away from the video you’re in charge of editing or the spreadsheet your boss needs. You could continue to focus on the distraction for your entire work day or shift your mental spotlight onto attentiveness. Consciously decide to think about and pay attention to your job instead of on whatever distraction steals your focus.
Keep Your Priorities in Mind
While you can’t always prevent distractions from affecting your attention, you can improve attentiveness when you remember your priorities and to-do list. A written to-do list posted near your workstation may help you stay on track, or check off your progress on an app like Strides, Habit Life or Momentum. Mindfully focusing on your priorities can keep you on track and ensure you reach your daily productivity goals.
When you know that you get distracted by social media or chatty co-workers, you can set boundaries. Essentially, boundaries train your brain to stay on task, and they protect your time. Examples of boundaries you may decide to set include:
- Install a timer app like StayFocusd or Guided Access to limit online access.
- Wear headphones to discourage chatty co-workers from stopping at your desk.
- Commit to finishing one native apps project before you switch gears to a second one.
- Follow the Pomodoro method and work for 25 minutes before you take a break.
Listen to Your Body
Consider the impact your daily diet, exercise regimen and sleep patterns have on your brain and body at work. Eating a balanced diet, exercising each day and improving sleep hygiene can give your brain and body the boost they need to stay focused and productive.
Stay in Charge of Your Emotions
As a human, you will experience frustration, anxiety, anger and other emotions at work. You can’t prevent feeling emotions, but you can acknowledge those emotions, give them legitimacy and stay in charge with these steps.
- Close your eyes and take a breath.
- Label what you’re feeling.
- Ask yourself if you or the anger, annoyance or disappointment are in charge.
- Promise yourself to take a few minutes during your break or after work to address your emotions.
- Return to work ready to focus.
Ask Your Co-Workers for Help
You may be surprised at how many of your colleagues struggle with distractions, too. Discuss your common distractions as a team, and share strategies to handle those distractions successfully. You can also vow to stop interrupting each other, create focus-only mornings or afternoons several times a week and check in to see how everyone’s managing their common distractions. As a team, you can improve productivity as you decrease distractions.
While you can’t prevent distractions from affecting your day, you can stay focused on your job. Use these tips to address distractions and improve your focus every day.