Workplace distractions are a large obstacle to workplace productivity — studies show that as much as 70%-99% of office employees feel distracted, with an average employee experiencing as much as 56 disruptions per day. These studies also indicate that employees take about 2 hours in total per day to refocus their attention back to their priority work after being distracted in the first place.

In this article, you’ll learn:

Why do you get so distracted at work?

How do distractions affect productivity?

How do distractions affect memory?

What are common examples of distractions?

What are the biggest distractions at work?

And, most importantly — How should you handle and stop workplace distractions?

Let’s dive in for the answers.

Workplace distractions infographic

What is a distraction of attention?

According to the definition, distractions involve the process of diverting someone’s attention away from his or her desired area of focus.

There are 2 types of distractions:

  • Internal distractions — these are the distractions that come from your own mind, and they include:
    1. Fatigue
    2. Illness
    3. Personal problems and worries
    4. Daydreaming about what you would rather be doing
  • External distractions — these are the distractions  that come from the outside of your mind, and they include:
    1. Some types of music
    2. Phone calls
    3. Emails
    4. Text messages and notifications
    5. Social Media news feeds and notifications
    6. Anything that can visually distract your attention
    7. Background noise of any kind

Why do I get so distracted at work?

The reason behind the “success” of a distraction may lie behind your:

  • General lack of ability to pay attention to your desired area of focus — people suffering from ADHD, chronic fatigue syndrome, or insomnia may find it more difficult to concentrate because of their chronic conditions. Moreover, lifestyle changes that cause anxiety, excessive stress, or hunger may also affect your general ability to pay sufficient attention to your work.
  • General lack of interest in your desired area of focus — boring, menial tasks may trigger such an effect, but also any type of task you are not naturally inclined to or interested in.
  • The seemingly irresistible call of the distractions around you — trying to work when there is something else you’d rather do or while everyone else is having fun in one way or another can be challenging.

How do distractions affect productivity?

One of the biggest problems with distractions is that they directly lead to productivity loss. This is tied to the hours employees lose because of their lack of focus on their priority work tasks.

If you’re looking to put a price tag on this productivity loss, the average numbers are already there — reports show that American businesses lose as much as $650 billion per year due to workplace distractions.

Employees also recognize  the detrimental effects of distractions on productivity, as their responses from a workplace distractions report made by Udemy show that:

  • 54% believe they “aren’t performing as well as they should”.
  • 50% believe they “are significantly less productive”.
  • 20%  believe they are “not able to reach full potential and advance in their careers”.

How do distractions affect memory?

According to a new study made by the researchers from Simon Fraser University, the likelihood of falling prey to distractions may be linked to our working memory capacity:

  • Better memory = higher ability to avoid distractions. People who performed well in memory tasks within the study (indicating that they have higher working memory capacity) proved more efficient in suppressing distractions.
  • Poorer memory = lower ability to avoid distractions. In contrast, people who performed poorer in memory tasks within the study (indicating that they have lower working memory capacity) usually failed to surpass distractions fast enough to stop them from grabbing their attention.

💡 Looking for efficient ways to improve your memory? Check out our blog post on the subject of the 9 best memorization techniques you can try now.

How do workplace distractions affect different generations?

Funnily enough, distractions may not affect all generations in the same way — the distractions that affect Gen X and Baby Boomer are not the same as the ones that affect Gen Z and Millennials. This is tied to how different generations are wired to work and focus in the first place.

A crucial difference between the generations is the level of noise they are capable of putting up with when they want to focus on work. This data was compiled from a study made by Future Workplace and commissioned by Plantronics. Inc:

As much as 52% of Gen Z claims they are the most productive when working in a noisy environment or talking with someone. This is in direct contrast with the 60% of Baby Boomers who need complete quiet to work.

Even so, members of Gen Z are still more capable of dealing with distractions when they do divert their attention, than Baby Boomers — as much as 35% of Gen Z will use headphones to block external noise while only 16% of Baby Boomers will do the same.

Moreover, Gen Z and Millenials are also more likely to accept a working arrangement that implies more noise. Namely, as much as 55% of Gen Z and 56% of Millennials claim they want to work in an open office. In contrast, with 47% and 38% respectively, Gen X and Baby Boomers are less enthusiastic about the prospect of working in such a potentially noisy office layout.

What are the biggest distractions?

According to a research by CareerBuilder that covered 3031 full-time US workers and 2186 hiring managers across various industries and company sizes in the private sector, people find the following distractions to be the most disruptive at work:

  1. Mobile phone/texting: 55%
  2. The Internet: 41%
  3. Gossip: 39%
  4. Social media: 37%
  5. Co-workers dropping by: 27%
  6. Smoke breaks or snack breaks: 27%
  7. Email: 26%
  8. Meetings: 24%
  9. Noisy co-workers: 20%
  10. Sitting in a cubicle: 9%

What are common examples of distractions?

The above-mentioned research by CareerBuilder talked about the biggest distractions in broader strokes. In addition to that, one research by Plantronics, Inc covering 5,000 employees hints at what are the specific workplace distractions that affect employees the most:

  1. Co-workers talking loudly over the phone
  2. Co-workers talking nearby
  3. Phone rings, alerts, and notifications
  4. Office celebrations such as birthdays and retirement parties
  5. Nearby group meetings
  6. Children visiting your co-workers
  7. Team games that involve the entire office
  8. Family members, other than children, visiting your coworkers
  9. Table games such as tennis or football
  10. Pets in the office
  11. Outside noise such as car sirens, landscaping work, or dogs barking
  12. A colleague eating
  13. The sound of the heating or air conditioning system
  14. The sound of the copy machine or printer
  15. The sound of coffee being made

How can you handle and stop distractions?

So, we already talked about how different generations view distractions. There are, however, certain claims from the same research by Future Workplace that eradicate these differences:

  • Nearly 3 out of 4 people would be more willing to work in an office environment if the employers would make the effort to reduce workplace distractions. According to the previously mentioned Udemy research, workplace employees hold the following beliefs about reducing distractions:
    • 75 out of 100 declared: “I get more done and I’m more productive.”
    • 57 out of 100 declared: “I’m motivated to do my best.”
    • 51 out of 100 declared: “I’m more confident in my ability to do my job well.”
    • 49 out of 100 declared: “I’m happier at work.”
    • 44 out of 100 declared: “I deliver higher quality work.”
  • 9 out of 10 people get frustrated by distractions on phone or video calls, with 56% of respondents believing that these problems could be fixed with better technology and the elimination of background noise.
  • More than 5 out of 10 people believe the problem of workplace distractions could be solved through:
    • Designated quiet spaces and zones located throughout the office
    • Clear guidelines defining appropriate noise levels
    • Changing the office layout

These statements further prove how important it is to better handle and stop distractions.

And, bellow you can read about the specific tips on how you can tackle as much as 21 distractions often talked about in various research about workplace distractions, grouped by type:

  1. Various noise
  2. What you’d rather do
  3. Tech distractions
  4. Interruptions
  5. Work-related distractions
  6. Visual distractions
  7. Internal distractions

Various Noise 📢

When it comes to the noise that may distract you while you work, it may include noisy co-workers, office noise, visiting family members, the noise coming from the outside, and even pets in the office.

Noisy co-workers

The previously mentioned Plantronics, Inc research shows that co-workers talking loudly over the phone is the number 1 distraction for 75% research participants, while co-workers talking nearby is the second most distracting noise for as much as 65% research participants.

Other noise people find the most distracting include co-workers playing office games such as table tennis or football, as well as nearby team meetings.

Office noise

Office noise is another noise that may challenge your ability to focus in the workplace. Depending on your office, and where you are stationed, it may include the sound of the heating or air conditioning system or the sound of the copy machine or printer. For some people, the sound of coffee being made can also be a big distractor.

Family members (+ children) visiting the office

Sometimes, your co-workers will have their family members come by the office, for various reasons. Sometimes, they’ll want to drop off something, pick something up, or say a quick hello. Sometimes, children may be involved as well. If these visits happen unexpectedly, they may be an even bigger distractor.

Outside noise

Outside noise that may distract you includes car sirens, landscaping work, construction work, dogs barking, or any kind of commotion coming from the outside. These unavoidable (and usually, unmanageable) distractions can be especially distracting when you’re having an important call with a client, trying to helm a meeting, or holding a PowerPoint presentation.

Pets in the office

More and more offices around the globe are becoming pet friendly. For most people, the biggest distraction-related factor pets pose is their cuteness factor — a lot of people cannot walk past a cute puppy or kitten without going over to pet them.

Of course, there are also other factors some people may find distracting, as shown in one poll:

  • Meowing/barking (reported by 25% of cat owners, and 19% of dog owners)
  • Fur/hair problems (reported by 32% of cat owners, and 9% of dog owners)
  • Cleanliness issues (reported by 24% of cat owners, and 9% of dog owners)

💡 Tips on how to handle various noise in the workplace:

*Some of these tips apply to employers who have the power to make these changes within their companies and help their employees be less distracted and more focused on their tasks.

Use headphones, the universal solution to all types of noise.

You can use them to listen to music or an online noise generator to block all noise. If you want a pair that also actively absorbs background noise, try noise-canceling headphones. The online noise generators you can use for this purpose include Noisli, MyNoise, or Coffitivity — they offer a wide array of sounds and colored noise. Now, music has already been listed as an external “distractor”, but, in truth, this only applies to certain kinds of music. For example, music with lyrics is more likely to distract you from certain tasks, while you usually can’t go wrong with instrumental pieces, even game soundtracks.

Talk with your colleagues about the noise.

Chances are that your colleagues who talk loudly over the phone or have group conversations nearby, don’t even know they are distracting you. Politely explain what you are currently working on, and why you would need more quiet to finish the said work with high quality.

Use a microphone that absorbs and eradicates background noise for client calls.

This will make sure that at least your client is spared of the construction work happening next to your office. On your end, you can use a trusty pair of noise-canceling headphones.

Employers can equip a special noise-proof room.

People can then use it for tasks that require absolute quiet, such as client calls and meetings. Elements you can add and combine include specialized sound blockers, a white-noise machine, sound-proof doors and windows, heavy drapes (they can help absorb some of the outside noise), and sealing in all the cracks and gaps.

*A note of warning: you may have to introduce a special policy regarding the use of this room and require employees to schedule their time in advance, as it’s likely going to become a popular space.

Employers can introduce an official “noise” policy in the office.

This policy can provide a clear list of official guidelines and rules that detail what type and level of noise are prohibited, and when.

If it’s your own family visiting, be mindful of your colleagues.

Keep the conversation quiet, and don’t have your family members come by all too often. You can even install some fun (preferably educational) games for your children to help keep them occupied during the visit. Alternatively, you can receive your family members in the kitchen (or that noise-proof room, if it’s available), in order to avoid directly distracting your colleagues.

When it comes to pets in the office, think about the benefits first. 

The previously mentioned poll also showed what employees really think about having pets in the office:

  • They relieve stress (reported by 29% of cat owners, and 21% of dog owners)
  • They make the office more friendly (reported by 21% of cat owners, and 18% of dog owners)
  • They provide a positive diversion (reported by 19% of cat owners, and 9% of dog owners)

So, putting up with a small amount of meows and barks may prove worth it in the long run.

What you’d rather do 🎉

Sometimes, the distractions at the workplace may involve the alluring call of activities that are not related to your work. This includes gossiping and otherwise chatting with colleagues or going on prolonged smoke or snack breaks. Another similar distraction you may encounter at the workplace are fun activities such as office celebrations and team games you’ll find yourself wanting to participate in even when you have a lot of work.

Gossiping and chatting with colleagues

The previously mentioned study conducted by CareerBuilder shows that as much as 39% of respondents cite office gossip as a major distraction from work, while 27% point out that chatting with colleagues about matters not related to work is another big culprit.

Smoke breaks or snack breaks

Both snack breaks and smoke breaks fall under short breaks. Research by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) shows smokers take about 4 breaks per day, with each lasting 10 minutes on average. This costs the British economy £8.4 billion per year.

Moreover, a study by Staples showed that as much as 57% of US workers would leave their offices to buy snacks. These departures from the office cost the US economy 2.4 billions of hours in lost productivity.

Yet, you can’t work properly when you’re hungry. The same goes for people who are smokers, for better or for worse (unless you are looking to quit the habit).

So, the best solution is to find alternatives and workarounds for these distractions, rather than trying to eliminate them altogether.

Office celebrations and team games

Birthdays, retirement parties, and Secret Santa Soirees are a common occurrence at most workplaces. However, despite the joy, gifts, and great food they usually involve, they still may distract you from your work. The same goes for team building activities and games the entire office is expected to participate in.

💡 Tips on how to handle the urge to do something other than work

*Some of these tips apply to employers who have the power to make these changes within their companies and help their employees be less distracted and more focused on their tasks.

Companies can offer snacks for their employees in office kitchens. 

Many companies in the US are already doing this, by spending $14,813 per month on snacks and beverages. Moreover, as much as 33% of companies are willing to spend even more than that. Such a practice can save a lot of time and money in the long run, as employees will no longer be distracted by their hunger and leave the office to buy what they need.

Keep snacks at hand.

Bring a bowl of healthy snacks, place it on your desk, and nibble when hunger strikes.

You can rarely go wrong with nuts, but there are plenty of healthy snacks you can try, and some of them are even classified as “productivity food.

Choose a workstation near productive people, if possible.

Working while surrounded by productive people who don’t engage in gossip or chats all too often will inspire you to follow suit, and match their productivity levels.

Scheduled smoke breaks.

If most of your employees are smokers, employers can designate specific times of day for smoke breaks. This way, smokers will feel at ease by knowing their next smoke break is scheduled for the near future, so they’ll be more likely to focus on their priority tasks now.

Plan your work ahead, with the office celebration or team game in mind. 

Identify your priorities for that day and start working on them as soon as you arrive at the office. For a better effect, create precise time blocks for these priority tasks in your calendar (e.g. Task 1 — 1 hour, from 8:00 am to 9:00 am; Task 2 — 30 minutes, from 9:05 am to 9:35 am). This way, you’ll be able to organize and schedule your work in such a way that you have enough time to finish your priority work and enjoy the celebration or game stress-free.

Don’t be the last to return to your workstation.

Office celebrations range from 15 minutes to several hours, depending on the occasion. But you don’t have to stay longer than you want to or have the time for. If you have a lot of work on your plate, and can’t possibly finish everything before the celebration starts, then the solution is to limit the time you’ll spend on the celebration.

For example, if you really have a lot to finish, you can set a time block for that Secret Santa Soiree in the duration of 1 hour. Afterward, you can return to your desk, put on your headphones, and resume work. If luck should have it, you may still finish that urgent assignment before the celebration ends, and return to the party.

Tech distractions 📱

As expected, tech distractions are a big culprit in eating up the time you should be spending focused on work. These distractions usually involve your mobile phone, the internet, and Social Media in all its forms.

Your mobile phone

According to Larry Rosen, a psychology professor and the co-author of the book The Distracted Mind, people check their phones every 15 minutes, on average. The reason behind this is the anxiety-induced impatience that makes us fear we’ll miss out on something if we stop checking our phones regularly.

The most common distractions associated with your smartphone are personal texts, phone calls, but also alerts and notifications you get from Social Media and other apps. Of course, you will also likely be tempted to browse the web with your smartphone, wasting even more time in the process.

The Internet

If you’re using your mobile phone to browse the web, research shows that you’ll likely search for:

  • The weather report: 51%
  • The news: 44%
  • Games: 24%
  • Shopping: 24%
  • Traffic news: 12%
  • Popular gossip: 7%
  • Sales deals: 6%
  • Adult content: 4%
  • Dating opportunities: 3%

Very often, you may also use your work laptop or desktop computer for this purpose.

Social Media

Research shows that we’ve spent 2 hours and 23 minutes in 2019 on different Social Media platforms, which is a steady rise from the average of 1 hour and 30 minutes we had in 2012.

The Udemy research report shows what Social Media platforms different generations usually find the most distracting during work time:

  • Facebook, with a total share of 65% and
    • 58 out of 100 Millennials and Gen Z
    • 69 out of 100 Gen X
    • 71 out of 100 Baby Boomers
  • Instagram, with a total share of 9% and
    • 15 out of 100 Millennials and Gen Z
    • 9 out of 100 Gen X
    • 2 out of 100 Baby Boomers
  • Twitter, with a total share of 7% and
    • 4 out of 100 Millennials and Gen Z
    • 7 out of 100 Gen X
    • 11 out of 100 Baby Boomers
  • Snapchat, with a total share of 7% and
  • 11 out of 100 Millennials and Gen Z
  • 4 out of 100 Gen X
  • 3 out of 100 Baby Boomers

💡 Tips on how to handle tech distractions

Manage app notifications. 

Turn off notifications for your Social Media platforms and other apps completely, and mute your phone calls and texts during the time when you want to fully immerse yourself in a task.

Schedule phone use.

If you cannot mute your phone for the duration of the entire workday (either out of a habit or because you’re afraid that you’ll miss an emergency call from family or friends), set a fixed schedule for when you’ll check your phone. For example, you can set an alarm every hour to remind you that it’s time to check your phone. Each time the alarm goes off, set aside 1 minute to go through your messages and other notifications. If you find something important and urgent, set aside 5-10 minutes to deal with it. If not, go back to work once the 1 minute is up, and set your phone aside until the next 1-hour alarm goes off.

For this purpose, you can use the Pomodoro timer in Clockify’s browser extensions that allows you to define the duration of your work sessions and breaks and then set notifications for both.

Get your phone out of your sight. 

If you really want to avoid your phone, then place it in a drawer, and lock it there for the duration of your work hours, or for whatever time you want or need.

Use a website blocker to avoid time-wasting websites. 

Most such apps let you create a blacklist of websites you want to ban yourself during the time you specify. Great solutions you can try include StayFocusd (Chrome extension), Cold Turkey (macOS), and Freedom (macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Chrome extension). You can use either one to block Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or any other website.

Schedule Social Media use.

Just like with your phone, you can also set a schedule for when you’ll check your Social Media accounts, be it every 30 minutes, 1 hour, or 2 hours. Once the alarm on your Pomodoro timer goes off, use your designated break time to check your accounts before resuming work for another predefined session.

Co-workers interrupting you 👨

Co-workers dropping by to ask a question is a common workplace distraction. So much that employees usually spend about 11 minutes focused on a project in one go before being interrupted. Afterward, they need about 25 minutes to restore their full focus on a project task at hand.

Moreover, research by The Journal of Experimental Psychology that covered 300 participants showed that being interrupted, even on simple tasks, leads people to make errors more frequently. The length of the interruption also has its effect on the error rate:

  • as little as 2.8 seconds of interruption doubles the error rate
  • as little as  4.4 seconds of interruption triples the error rate

💡 Tips on how to handle co-workers interrupting you:

Make it a habit to politely refuse or reschedule such interruptions. 

Each time someone interrupts you, you can say: “I’m sorry, I’m currently in the middle of something. Can I get back to you later in the day or tomorrow morning?”.

Make your schedule public.

If you have your own office, make it a habit to stick your schedule detailing what you’ll be working on today (and when) at the front door. If you work in a cubicle or an open office, you can define your weekly schedule in an online calendar (such as Google Calendar), and then share it with your team. This way, your teammates will be able to see when you might be available for a quick meeting or question.

Wear headphones (you don’t even have to listen to anything).

Here’s another situation where headphones can help you out. Just the fact that you are wearing headphones will send a message to your co-workers that you are deeply immersed in your work, and would rather avoid being interrupted at this time.

Work-related distractions 📧

Perhaps surprisingly, sometimes, even work can distract you from your other, more important work. These work-related distractions include meetings, a constant flood of emails, and various tasks you may think you are multitasking on, but are actually merely making you scatter focus. In addition to that, micromanagement-prone managers (no matter how well-meaning they may be) and strict office policies may further hinder productivity at work and serve as their own distractions.

Meetings

An Atlassian survey shows that employees lose about 31 hours per month, on average, in meetings.

In line with that, meetings are often viewed as disruptive, both when compared with other work tasks, and on their own.

Namely, although as much as 71% of people define meetings as unproductive, they are still compelled to spend from 15% to 50% of their work time on meetings, depending on their seniority level.

In addition to meetings being a distraction from your other priority work, the Udemy survey shows that there are several distractions that can disrupt meetings, and make them unproductive on their own:

  • Small talk and office gossip, for 54% survey participants
  • Side discussions about other projects, for 45% survey participants
  • Late arrivals and early departures, for 37% survey participants
  • Problems with technology or connectivity, for 33% survey participants

Managers who have a penchant for micromanagement

You can’t exactly focus on your work if you are constantly being interrupted by a manager checking up whether you are working properly. In fact, a survey published in Harry Chambers’ book My Way or the Highway showed that as much as 79% of employees have experienced micromanagement — this prompted 69% of them to want to change their jobs, and 36% to actually change their jobs.

Trying to follow strict office policies

Having to arrive at work at a precise time can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. Commuting through heavy traffic to get to work on time every day can only add to this stress. Now, these may not seem like classic distractions. Yet, stress can lead employees to become less attentive at work, and more likely to fall prey to other, more concrete distractions. So, anything that causes stress may be a great catalyzer for low productivity and focus, and strict office policies fall under this.

A constant flood of emails

The previously mentioned Atlassian survey shows that employees receive about 304 work-related emails per week, check their inboxes 36 times per hour, and take 16 minutes to refocus their attention after answering an email. That amounts to 13 hours we spend on emails per week.

Trying to multitask

Logic may imply that multitasking involves working on several tasks at once and finishing your work faster. But, in truth, these tasks that you are “multitasking” on can only serve as distractions when compared to one another.

Namely, only about 2% of the population is actually capable of multitasking successfully, with as much as 98% just switching between several tasks in short successions. Moreover, studies suggest that multitasking actually makes your productivity drop by 40%. It also increases your stress levels, and even makes you temporarily lose as much as 10 IQ points.

💡Tips on how to handle work-related distractions:

*Some of these tips apply to managers who have the option to change the way they approach their team and project management, in order to help their teams be less distracted and more focused on their tasks. Some of these tips apply to employers who have the power to make appropriate changes to their company’s office policies.

Introduce “no-meeting” days.

23% of respondents from the Udemy research report propose introducing regular “no-meeting” days, in order to introduce at least one day per week when no one will be distracted and interrupted by meetings.

Limit the time your team spends on meetings. 

For example, 15 or 20 minutes per meeting is usually enough to cover the crucial points of any meeting, and you can track time spent on meetings to make sure you stick to the limit. Which brings us to the next tip.

Set a clear agenda for each meeting.

Each scheduled meeting should have a clear and concise list of matters it will cover. Everyone involved should be made familiar with the agenda. By doing so, everyone in the team will have enough time to think about the questions and concerns they want to raise related to the matters that will be covered in the meeting.

Invite only the essential people to meetings.

Inviting your entire company for a meeting that really only concerns the development team (and where only the development team can offer valuable insights and answers) would likely be a waste of time for a lot of its participants.

 Project managers, avoid micromanaging your teams.

By giving your teams more space to work, you will decrease their stress levels. You will also give them larger stretches of time to focus on their work and figure out suitable solutions on their own, through deep, uninterrupted work. If they have any questions or concerns, let them come to you.

Introduce flexible working hours, to ease punctuality-related employee stress.

For example, you can issue a policy that requires employees to work anytime from 8 am to 8 pm, as long as they work for 8 hours in total per day. Or, you can define approximate arrival times (e.g. anytime from 8 am to 11 pm), and have employees work 8 hours from the moment they arrive. To make sure your employees are fulfilling their norms, you can introduce a time tracker app to your daily workflows, such as Clockify.

Offer a work-from-home arrangement. 

Research shows that employees who work from home are more productive. Namely, they work 1.4 days per month more than office-based employees. Plus, a work-from-home arrangement would eliminate all commute-related stress — by completely eliminating commutes.

💡 Working from home or remotely can increase employee productivity and eliminate certain common workplace distractions. Here are some resources that can help a company transitioning to this type of work arrangement:

32 best work-from-home apps

80+ tips for working from home (and what to expect)

How to be productive working from home

Remote workers share their biggest challenges

Habits for crafting the perfect remote workday

How to build trust in the remote workplace

Remote business management: how to streamline and automate operations

Manage email notifications. 

Turn off browser notifications you’re getting for each email you receive.

Avoid checking your inbox at random.

Instead, schedule fixed time periods when you’ll check your inbox and respond to emails. For example, you can set aside some morning hours (e.g. from 8:00 am when you arrive to work to 8:30 am) and some afternoon hours (e.g. from 3:30 pm to 4:00 pm before you finish work for the day). Once you’ve defined your email schedule, make sure you stick to it.

*Extra tip: Schedule these check-up times when you know you’re usually low on productivity, and wouldn’t be able to focus on higher priority work anyway.

Sort your emails.

Once you start managing your inbox, sort your emails based on what you will do with them:

  • High-priority emails you need to answer as soon as possible.
  • The email you cannot answer yourself, but need to forward to other members of your team, your project manager, team lead, etc.
  • Medium-priority emails you can easily answer right now.
  • Low-priority emails you may schedule for tomorrow or simply archive.
  • Spam and other random emails you can delete right away.

Then, aim to answer your emails in their order of priority.

Make a list of tasks you have to do for today, to avoid multitasking. 

Once you have your list, order the tasks by priority. Make it a habit to work your way down your to-do list. Make it a habit to work on only one task at a time, before switching to the next. This is also a great tip if you have ADHD or a similar condition.

Visual distractions ✨

Sometimes, it’s something that catches your eye that makes you lose focus — desk clutter and colleagues eating nearby may be enough to distract you from your priorities.

Desk clutter

Having a lot of unnecessary papers, gadgets, and pens can potentially be detrimental to your performance at work. Namely, studies show that clutter can badly affect your ability to focus as well as your anxiety levels. It can trigger coping and avoidance strategies that make you seek other distractions, which only makes the problem worse.

Moreover, all of this may be even worse in cubicles, where you already have a sense of small space pressing onto you — after all, clutter may make your cubicle seem even smaller.

A colleague eating nearby

Colleagues eating near you may seem like an unusual distraction, but its effect is undeniable. Imagine being hungry and trying to finish an important task before the deadline, while the rest of your colleagues are enjoying their lunch break within your eyeshot.

💡 Tips on how to handle visual distractions:

Declutter your work desk of everything you don’t need or use. 

One research that involved the use of fMRI showed that clearing clutter in the workplace environment enhances your ability to process information, thus directly increasing your productivity and improving your ability to focus. So, get rid of old newspapers, project files, broken paper clips, and organize the rest of what you want to keep neatly on your desk or in your desk drawers.

Take more frequent breaks to eat.

Yes, this may sound counterproductive, but taking more frequent breaks to eat will help you stay energized throughout the day, so you’ll be able to focus better and stay productive longer. Plus, you won’t be bothered by other people eating near you quite so much. If you have a lot of work to do and don’t think that you’d have time for a prolonged lunch break, having some nutritious snacks close at hand can help you avoid outbursts of hunger.

Avoid looking at the kitchen.

If possible, position yourself so that you’re not in constant view of the kitchen.

Internal distractions 💭

Last, but not least, it may be your own personal thoughts and problems distracting you. This may be the case if you’re pressed down by fatigue, illness, personal problems, and worries.

Fatigue or illness

Just like you can’t properly focus when you’re hungry, you won’t be able to properly focus when you’re tired or not feeling well. The longer and faster you work to catch up with your work, the more tired you’ll be, and thus more likely to be distracted.

In the end, this leads to a lack of satisfaction, engagement, and motivation at the workplace, which may lead you to succumb to even more distractions — proving that distractions are a vicious circle bound to repeat once you succumb to them.

This, again, leads to stress and frustration, which may directly lead you to overwork yourself to burnout.

Personal problems and worries

Sometimes, you’ll have a personal crisis or problem on your mind. This will make it harder for you to concentrate and make it easier for your mind to wander off of your work tasks, even when you do establish some focus.

💡 Tips on how to handle internal distractions:

Take more breaks to rest or meditate.

By taking breaks for relaxation, you’ll recharge your batteries better. As a result, you’ll feel less tired, and be less prone to diversions. So, schedule regular 10-minute meditation breaks in your daily calendar, especially on the days when you know you have a lot of work to do.

Take some time off or sick leave.

If you’re sick, chances are you won’t be doing anyone (least alone yourself) a favor by insisting on coming to work. Instead, take a couple of days off to get better. The same goes for other time off — if you take a couple of days for a vacation, you’ll be better rested when you return to the office, and thus less likely to fall prey to workplace distractions. This time off can also help you tackle the personal problems or worries you may have.

Consult a medical professional. 

If you fear that you may be suffering from burnout, or that there are other reasons why you feel so tired and unfocused, perhaps it would be best if you were to consult a medical professional to advise you what to do.

Wrapping up

When battling workplace distractions, you’ll often need to deal with background noise, visual distractions, but also your own internal thoughts and worries. Considering the benefits of a distraction-free workplace, which include improved productivity and quality of work, battling workplace distractions is a crucial step for everyone involved in the workings of a company, from employees to employers and managers. And, with the right tips, it’s easy to accomplish.