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3 Common Workplace Distractions -- and How to Overcome Them

By Maurie Backman - Sep 23, 2017 at 12:18PM

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Want to stay focused on the job? Here's how you can help eliminate three major productivity busters.

Being productive on the job is crucial to advancing your career. After all, if you're not meeting or exceeding expectations, you're less likely to get ahead. But sometimes even the most dedicated, diligent employees can fall victim to workplace distractions.

Now you might think that getting sidetracked is no big deal, especially since it's something that pretty much happens to everyone. But what you may not know is that it takes the average worker a solid 23 minutes to recover from even a minor interruption at work. In other words, a couple of three-minute pauses at the wrong time might set you back almost an entire hour over the course of your day. Ouch.

Man checking phone while working on laptop


Employers are aware of the problem, too. In fact, 53% say their companies lose between one and two hours of productivity each day due to employee distractions.

If you tend to fall victim to on-the-job distractions, worry not: With a little strategy, you can avoid those disruptions and instead focus on doing whatever it is you do best. Here's how to combat some of the most common ones out there.

1. Email

You're sitting at your desk, plugging away, when a new message flashes on your laptop screen. It's not uncommon for office workers to get dozens, if not hundreds, of emails per day, but if you stop what you're doing each time a new message lands in your inbox, you'll wind up zapping your productivity in the process. A better approach is to designate certain hours of the day or week for going through emails, and avoid checking your messages when you're scheduled to be doing other things.

Now you're probably thinking: What if a priority message comes in?

Well, it's a valid concern, but here's the thing: If a matter is truly urgent and requires an instant response, there's a good chance the person who sent the email pertaining to it will pick up the phone and call you, or hunt you down in the office to get an immediate answer. Barring that, it's probably something that can wait. Another option? Set your inbox to flag all messages from your boss, or other team or department heads, as priority, and only stop what you're doing if someone truly important sends you a note.

2. Your cellphone

In a recent CareerBuilder study, employers identified cellphones as the No. 1 source of employee distraction. And that's not surprising, seeing as how 39% of workers check their phones several times a day. Rather than remain glued to your phone, stick it in your backpack or purse while you're busy concentrating on core tasks, and whip it out as a reward of sorts once you're able to cross things off your daily to-do list. Furthermore, assign specific ringtones to important people in your life so that you know whether you should bust out your phone to answer a call when it rings or wait until later. (Oh, but keep that ringer on low -- otherwise you'll distract those around you, even if unintentionally.)

3. Chatty coworkers

We've all had to deal with that one coworker who can't seem to stop chatting up every single person he or she comes across. The best way to avoid that earnest yet irksome conversationalist is to stay away from key areas where he or she is likely to lurk, like the coffee machine or break room. But what if that coworker seeks you out and ambushes you at your desk?

At that point, your best bet is to be honest and say something along the lines of: "Jane, I'd love to chat, but I'm smack in the middle of a thought I don't want to lose. Can we catch up later?"

You can also make the situation out to be a more dire than it really is: "Jane, if I don't wrap this up in the next hour, my boss is going to have my head." Do that a couple of times and dear Jane should eventually get the message.

If you truly are facing a deadline, another option is to reserve a company conference room and lock yourself in it until the task at hand is done. And if those conference rooms have windows where others can peer in, put on a phone headset and pretend you're on a call so they're not tempted to knock and say hi. Along these lines, you might ask your manager for permission to work from home temporarily if you're deep in the throes of a major project and find your office environment too distracting.

The more proficient you get at avoiding distractions, the more valuable an employee you'll become. Just as importantly, by focusing on your job without getting sidetracked, you'll limit both your hours and stress. And that makes for a much happier work situation.

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