Workplace distractions are a big deal. They can steal your productivity and not only result in lost hours and a slip in the quality of your work but added stress and anxiety. It will make you feel behind and like you’re constantly playing “catch up” to get it all done.
For me, I know there are obvious distractions in my work life. The same is true of you, I’m sure. Common workplace distractions are things like social media, long and tedious meetings, and interruptions from your co-workers.
However, there are also more subtle interruptions and distractions that pull your attention away from peak productivity and focus. These are just a few insidious workplace distractions that can sneak in and take you away from being at the top of your game and, more importantly, how to deal with them.
How to Handle 4 Hidden Workplace Distractions
1) Lack of organization.
Something that can be hugely distracting, at least for me, is when I find myself getting disorganized. I love organization—knowing where everything is, where I need to be, and how I can find out what I need to know. When you are surrounded by clutter, whether it’s physical or digital, and it takes you more than a few seconds to find something that you need—or worse, you don’t know how to find what you need—that’s precious lost time, frustration, and your brain getting off track.
So how do you fix it?
How to Cope: As simple as it might sound, take the time to reorganize. While the act of organizing might sound like “busy work,” it is a crucial part of operating efficiently. Go through papers and throw away what you don’t need. Organize files. Rearrange your desktop and make new labels so that everything is clear and easy to find.
2) Notifications, even if you don’t check them.
When a device notification goes off, regardless of whether or not you check it, it is a distraction to you. Even if you tell yourself you will not check your notifications throughout the day, having the notifications there will be enough to pull your mind away from what you should be focused on. You will inevitably look at your phone at some point, even if you lock it in a desk drawer throughout the day. Whether it’s during a bathroom break or your lunch out, that phone will make an appearance.
What these notifications do is that place your mind on other things—be in a Facebook notification about a birthday, a phone game, or something genuinely important but not relevant to your work at hand.
How to Cope: I’ve mentioned it before, but turn off notifications. While putting your device on silent is a good start, it is not enough. Turning off notifications, particularly for things you don’t need cluttering your mind (such as social apps, games, and other time-wasters), will free up that time spent distracted by what’s going on around you. While you may think that distraction lasts only a few seconds, your brain is drawn to what’s going on on that app for much longer. It takes time to get back on track.
3) Noise you think you can tune out.
In a world of open-concept offices, you’re bound to encounter noise. It might be chatter, music, shuffling, or any other “background noise” that filters through. One of the things to note is that, as social creatures, the "humanness" of this background noise is what makes it so hard for our brains to ignore. It would be one thing if we were dealing with white noise.
The spontaneity of noise and people is distracting more so than anything. We can’t “tune out” one-sided conversations from our colleagues, sudden loud voices, and the unpredictable rhythm of an office environment.
When you can’t control your environment or the people around you, what can you really do to limit these distractions? I have a few suggestions.
How to Cope: One trick is to limit noise as much as possible. Noise-canceling headphones come in handy if you find the noise around you too distracting. You may have to go to extreme measures, like moving your desk to another room or just away from particularly loud or chatty co-workers. You have to do what you must to limit the noise that creeps in.
4) Your own emotional junk.
Lastly, in order to remain undistracted at work, we have to be keenly aware of how our own emotions can be a distraction. Emotional, internal distractions are often harder to fight than external factors that vie for our attention. Whether it’s wrestling with the constant “to-do” list in your head of everything you need to get done in your personal life...call your mother, schedule appointments for the kids, do home repairs, so on and so forth...or wrestling with heavy issues like death and life decisions, these things can stop you from focusing on your work.
Arguably, all of these things are more important. But they do get in the way nonetheless.
How to Cope: The worst thing you can do is try to ignore the things bouncing around in your head. If you find emotional or personal matters distracting you, take a few moments to sort out your issues: make a plan for later. If that’s making a list, or penciling in time for later, or just giving yourself a small break to experience emotions, do it. Then get back to work. Powering through when you’re struggling doesn’t produce good work.
How do you deal with your biggest workday distractions? Share your best tips in the comments.