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October 22, 2019 Peggy Liu

11 ways to minimize workplace distractions

Knowing what distractions to look out for is a good way to start preparing you for dealing with them.

The modern workplace can be a chaotic place. It’s full of phones ringing and pinging, email inboxes flooding, people coming, going, and sometimes even stopping to talk to you. No matter if you’re in an open office, tucked away in a cubicle, sharing a coworking space, or even working from home, you’re likely to be pelted with numerous distractions.

The question is: are you aware of where these distractions are coming from? Here are several types of distractions to look out for and 11 ways to help you minimize them.

Technology distractions

  1. Allot a time for checking emails and texts. Check your inbox once in the morning or once on your break. If there’s no need to compulsively check your messages and break your focus, don’t.
  2. Delete any distracting apps. If you’re committed to minimizing noise from the “outside” world, deleting distracting apps will help you avoid compulsive phone-checking. Don’t worry, you can always re-download them later.
  3. Ditch your phone entirely. Research shows that even the presence of a phone is enough to divert our attention. An easy fix would be to turn it off and bury it in your bag, or give it to a trusted colleague and tell them to play keep-away for you.
  4. The “out of sight, out of mind” mentality can do wonders. For your phone, at least.

Social distractions

  1. Create a communication strategy with your coworkers. For example, stick colour-coordinated sticky notes on your computer monitor to let others know when you’re busy or available. Or, you can send out an email alerting them to not bother you for a certain amount of time.
  2. Have an in-box and out-box on your desk (or elsewhere). Instead of having employees distract you with a spiel every time they drop off a project, have them use these trays. Easy. Clean. No distractions.
So many distractions.

Mental distractions

  1. If possible, avoid multi-tasking. Studies consistently show that multi-tasking is actually detrimental to working accurately and productively. It’s hard to focus when you’re trying to do ten different things at once.
  2. Break the cycle of anxious overthinking. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of tasks to finish in a day. Sometimes we just overthink problems, period. Declutter your mind by getting the small, easier tasks done and out of the way. If you find yourself overthinking a problem, breaking free from a solitary work environment and changing your activity might quell the overthinking.
  3. Practice mindfulness. Our personal lives can be trouble us at work as well. No one is always 100 percent stressed out at work by work. Be aware of the times your thoughts wander and make a conscious effort to pull yourself back. Take a couple of deep breaths. Give yourself a pep talk and tackle one problem at a time. You’ve got this.

Physical Distractions

  1. Make sure you have your needs taken care of. Have food and water on hand. It can be distracting when all you’re thinking about is what you want for dinner or you’re dealing with a headache from dehydration. 
  2. Plan ahead and make smart decisions. For those who enjoy a cocktail (or four) after work or go ham on a Sunday night, this one’s for you. Pretty self-explanatory.
  3. Get enough sleep, darn it. Everyone wants to grind as hard as they can, but how hard is it to work well through persistent drowsiness? We all know the answer. It’s really hard. Getting enough z’s every night will make sure your mind is alert and ready to power through the work day. And, that you’re on your best behaviour.

It’s also important to structure your schedule according to when you work best. We can all force ourselves to get up and go to work at the bleat of our alarms in the morning, but that doesn’t mean we’re all productive morning workers. Arrange your work schedule (to the extent that you can) to better fit your work style. If you don’t know what your optimal work habits are, this is a good opportunity to learn.

In a modern workplace, there will be no end to distractions, interruptions, and tasks that vie for our attention—as if we don’t already have enough things to pay attention to. However, knowing what these distractions look like for you and how to work around them will help your work go more smoothly in the long run.

Peggy Liu

Peggy Liu is a freelance writer and content creator and editor. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in English Literature, where she was also a mental health columnist for the student newspaper. When she isn't digging her way to the bottom of a peanut butter jar or petting friendly dogs around Vancouver, she can be found sitting in cafes with a notebook and a cup of coffee.