Avoiding Distractions at Work

Posted July 24, 2012 by Marcy Farrey in On the Ladder

We’re expected to get the bulk of our work done at the office, but a new study suggests that the office is now becoming one of the worst places to get work done.  Phone calls, e-mails, meetings, “quick questions” — all of these take us away from our work while we’re at the office.

According to the Birmingham Business Journal, a recent study found that an average office worker is interrupted every eight minutes.  At that rate, it’s easy to see why you might leave the office feeling like it was a “busy” day, but yet not have finished a project or task.  This is particularly true for those who do creative work, and who need to spend time brainstorming.  If you’re constantly being interrupted with e-mail alerts and coworker conversations, it’s easy to lose your train of thought.

Birmingham Business Journal contributor Marc Corsini suggests some ways in which you can accomplish more at the office.  One way is to check e-mail and messages only at certain times of the day:

Practice the 10, 2 & 4 Rule.  Only check your email at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.  Close your computer’s e-mail program and turn off any smartphone notifications alerting you to new messages.  Think of all the time you’ll gain.”

He also suggests you set aside some quiet time, and get your coworkers to agree to it:

Quiet hour, silent afternoon, or better yet, solitary Mondays.  Regularly dedicate an hour, half a day or even a full day to working uninterrupted.  (Get a commitment from others in your office, or this won’t work.)  No conversations or meetings.  No phone calls, no texts, no emails.  Nothing except solitude so you can work.”

These are great suggestions for those of you who work in traditional office settings.  But I’m sure there are some of you out who are thinking, “There’s no way my office can do that!”  Obviously, if your job is to respond to client or customer e-mails timely and regularly, you can’t follow the 10, 2 & 4 rule.  You also can’t have solitary time without e-mail or phone calls.  When I worked in a newsroom, I couldn’t follow these rules either — it might mean missing breaking news, which is an interruption you hope to have.  So what can those of us in less traditional industries learn from these suggestions?

Perhaps the best thing you can do is prioritize your distractions.  If an e-mail comes in, check it.  If it is an emergency or an important client, handle the issue as needed.  But if your distraction prevents you from working on a time-sensitive project, acknowledge which is more important and stick with it.  Delegate the less important task to someone else, if need be.  Don’t waste time being angry about the distraction or complaining about it — just add it to your list of issues to handle when you are done with the current task.

Regardless of which industry you work in, learning to navigate distractions is important.  Learn when to tell people they have to wait and learn how to do so in a polite manner.  People do tend to become impatient, but don’t let their impatience hinder your overall performance.  Distraction is unavoidable, but it is up to you to manage it effectively.

Read the rest of Crosini’s tips here.

About the Author

Marcy Farrey

Marcy Farrey is a videographer, writer, and editor. In her previous life, she worked as a broadcast news reporter and producer in Lincoln, Nebraska and as a writer and producer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University. Learn more about Marcy on her website www.marcyfarrey.com.

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