3 ways to reduce distractions at work

Is it harder to focus at home or in the office? Either way, it’s worth taking a step back and figuring out what your personal time-eaters are.

by Abigail Ireland
Last Updated: 18 Aug 2020

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that everyone responds differently to change and adversity. It’s why some people have thrived working from home whilst others cannot wait to get back to the office. 

Herein lies a huge opportunity for leaders who want to get the best out of their people. Recognise that each individual has their own optimal way of working, leading them to be effective in different situations and environments, and this should be embraced. 

From my work with clients over the past five months, I’ve been very transparent about how we can handle distractions more effectively, either in the office or when working remotely. We can either eliminate, reduce or accept distractions. 

In an ideal world, we would be able to master the art of removing any distraction that comes our way but I think we know that this isn’t always an option (homeschooling comes to mind!). In some cases, we simply have to be kind to ourselves and accept that it will be a bit harder to focus. In fact, this acceptance and self-compassion may actually lead to better results as we channel our energy more positively rather than simply directing it towards worry and frustration. 

Whether at home or in the office, there are three broad categories of distractions that can derail us and damage productivity: people, pop ups and procrastination. 

I’ll go through each in turn and provide one simple tip to reduce the impact of each distraction on your performance. 

1. People 

At home, ‘people’ can include family members such as partners, children and pets. In the workplace, you can easily be distracted by colleagues and the general noise of the office. As many businesses transition back to the workplace, you’ll inevitably experience the buzz and excitement as people can’t wait to catch up after months of isolation. 

Tip: Make a list of the people who derail and distract you most often. If you’re comfortable, have a conversation to explain your challenges and how others can help you to stay focused on the things that matter. If this isn’t an option, consider how you can ringfence, avoid or schedule interactions in a way that works for you. 

Could you perhaps work from a different location where you can’t be disturbed easily? Could you share household duties with someone else? Could you carve out a schedule that allows you to fully present for work and then fully present with other people outside of this? 

2. Pop Ups 

This relates to those urgent requests, sudden changes in plan, queries, chatbox notifications and unexpected things that literally pop up and sabotage your day. Often unavoidable and usually stress-inducing, they can cause us to firefight and work reactively on a daily basis. In an ideal world, we would take control of our schedules more proactively and be much more ruthless about what goes in and what gets moved out. 

Tip: Ask yourself if you are working on activities that will move the dial, or if you’re getting distracted by urgent but not important work. Turn off notifications that will disrupt your flow of thinking. Be confident and courageous about saying no, setting boundaries and being more determined about focusing on tasks you want to complete each day. 

If something urgent comes your way, be assertive about the impact of absorbing this new piece of work and the fact that something else will have to shift. 

3. Procrastination 

A popular distractor, procrastination occurs when we know we have something more important to be cracking on with, but for various reasons we don’t want to do it. Indeed, when we’re feeling overwhelmed, scattered or not sure where to start, we often procrastinate as a form of light relief. 

Tip: Set a timer to focus on a task (and that task only) for a dedicated period of time. If anything distracting comes into your mind, jot it down on a piece of paper to revisit when your timer stops. If you’re really not in a focused frame of mind, set a five-minute timer to kick things off (you’ll be surprised at how easily you can build momentum without the pressure to get results). Over time, you can extend the duration to 25 / 45 / 60 minute intervals and experience the benefits of pure, uninterrupted focus. 

Abigail Ireland is a performance coach 

Image credit: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

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