6 Distractions That Could Be Hurting You At Work

8 March 2016

Words by Ben Stower

Right now as I write this piece I've got Simon & Garfunkel playing in one ear, conversations from my co-workers in the other and a pressing want to source rugby league news for this week's tipping round.

Distractions are constant and ever-present at work, especially for those who want to find them. The first step to minimising distractions is mentally committing to your work. The next is identification, followed by elimination.

You'll need to take the first step on your own, but we can help with the next two. Let's start with one of the more surprising distractions we all encounter.

1. Email

Email inbox

Those new emails can wait (Image: Getty)

Whether it's your personal or work account, excessively checking emails can often result in poor time management and a detrimental lapse in concentration.

Frequently responding to colleagues doesn't mean you're getting work done. The same applies for instant messaging, which is a feature on many mail systems (Hangouts on Gmail). When used correctly, IM is great for productivity, but shouldn't become an outlet for socialising.

Solution

Turn off all noise alerts and designate times throughout the day for checking emails instead of flicking back every 10 minutes. This will generate more time to focus on your work and build momentum.

Use IM for purely work-related conversations. Once finished, reward yourself with some office banter if you so desire.

2. The View Out There

Business worker admiring view

A good view isn't worth poor time management (Image: Getty)

Having somewhere else to look aside from your computer screen from time to time is beneficial for your health. All the better if it's a view of the Brisbane River, Melbourne's Fed Square, Sydney Harbour or somewhere similarly eye-catching.

However, a good view can also be a horrible distraction. You don't want to find yourself watching the people on the street below when you should be writing those monthly financial reports.

Solution

Pull down the blind whenever your toil needs to be both hard and honest. This will prevent any outside action from stealing your attention.

If your window doesn't have a blind and you can't help pressing your nose up against the glass, it might be necessary to change desks until you're ready to have nice things.

3. Music/Podcasts

Listening to music at work

Music should complement your projects, not work against them (Image: Getty)

Music is considered one of the better tools for productivity, so how did it end up on this list? It's true, music can greatly increase the efficiency of workers performing menial tasks. However, when you need to employ more concentration, what was once friend can turn enemy.

Playing music too loudly or listening to attention-grabbing tunes can dramatically reduce your brainpower and cause you to make mistakes.

Podcasts are even worse and the growth in popularity of serials over the last two years hasn't helped businesses or employees. These require a lot more focus to follow, often taking precedent over work.

The shift in attention is subtle. You might stop typing for a while to listen more closely, insert lyrics into your sentences without thinking, or just unabashedly forgo work.

Solution

Save the podcasts for your commute and choose music that isn't distracting. The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute lists natural sounds as beneficial. Instrumentals are also acceptable, along with baroque music.

But none of the above matters if you don't keep all sounds to a reasonable work-efficient volume.


How do you hold yourself? The Power Of Body Language At Work

Need a break? Small Wins For The Business Traveller


4. Co-Workers

Workers talking in a cubical

Make time for socialising, but don't let it affect your work (Image: Getty)

You can ignore your co-workers' emails, but you can't stop them from walking up to your desk and starting a conversation.

Inter-office relationships are often crucial to an enjoyable and efficient workplace, so it's important not to dismiss chatty colleagues rudely.

However, you also don't want to become a sounding board for everyone's weekend plans, soap-opera dating lives and high school football stories. That's a quick way to lose hours of work time.

Solution

Balance your time appropriately. When there's nothing pressing, take advantage of the break with some socialising. If you have a tight deadline, politely tell your colleague you're stretched for time, but you'd love to catch-up later or at lunch when your work is finished.

Chances are they'll understand your situation. We've all been there.

5. Non Work-Related Websites

Shopping online

Online shopping can be done at home (Image: Getty)

Gossip blogs, sports scores, the stock market, news websites – whatever your obsession, there's usually an outlet online.

It's harmless to unwind for a couple of minutes on one of these sites – all work and no play ... you know the rest. However, two minutes can quickly turn to 10, then 20 and even longer.

Once you wake from the coma you've learned the entire Royal Family ancestry line, but still haven't started your guide to choosing the best neck pillow.

Solution

Mental resilience plays a major role in ensuring you don't wander too deep into the web. You can also start using your entertainment websites as a reward for finishing projects instead of a temporary escape.

If you're friends with someone in IT, they might be happy to put a block on your more frequented non work-related websites.

6. Meetings

Distracted in a meeting

Don't let meetings make you miss deadlines (Image: Getty)

One of the hardest distractions to overcome originates from within the workplace: meetings. A calendar full of meetings and little time for actual work can be a very deflating sight indeed.

How do you get around this? You're expected to attend, but also expected to finish your jobs. The result is you seeing the sun set and rise from your office desk in order to get everything done.

Solution

Plan ahead. Schedule enough time in the day/week for completing your work, then organise your meetings around those periods.

Make sure your attendance is absolutely necessary and don't be afraid to tell your boss (if it isn't urgent) you need to reschedule in order to finish your tasks.

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