Thursday, June 5, 2008

Understanding Why You Really Get Distracted at Work

If you feel like you're going to scream the next time someone interrupts you at work, pay attention. The problem may not be them -- but you.

That's right. You're the cause of your own distractions. You may be responsible for driving yourself crazy.

Let's be real. That candy dish on your desk? A "hello, stop and chat" magnet if ever there was one. Looking up whenever someone walks by (smile optional)-- a sure sign you're willing to shoot the breeze.

And let's talk about those cute little toys on your desk and the funny posters that cover your cubicle or office walls. That doesn't exactly say you're serious about work, now does it? You may consider them just part of your work space, but to some people they say: "Whoopee! Always ready to be interrupted for whatever silly thing you have to say!"

OK, so now that we've started getting to the truth of why you can't concentrate at work, let's get a bit tougher. There is no reason that once you've greeted everyone with a smile or friendly hello at the beginning of the day, you should keep it up. You're not a cruise director are you? You can always just nod when you pass someone in the hallway -- but keep moving! If an unexpected visitor shows up, you can offer a friendly smile or greeting, but stand up and offer your hand, while saying: “How can I help you?” This shows that you’re ready for business, and keeps the person from lingering for too long.

Some other tips for cutting down on distractions:
• Talk to yourself. You can either do this in your head or aloud, but continually say to yourself: “What is the most important thing I need to be doing right now?” This serves two purposes: It helps you stay focused and your muttering concerns just enough people to keep them from getting too close.
• Find your hiding spot. The advantage of having laptops is that they allow you to pick up your work and head for another destination. Ask the boss if you can go to a local coffee shop or book an empty conference room so that you can have some uninterrupted time. Turn off your cell phone and only check it once an hour.
• Consider your own behavior. It could be that one of the reasons you’re getting off track is because you’re part of the problem. How many times do you stop and talk to others in a typical day? When you’re waiting on phone calls, or between projects, do you wander over to someone else’s desk to talk? Do you linger around the coffeepot? By behaving in such a way, you aren’t respecting the time of others – and they may be only too happy to return the favor when you least need it.

What are some of your most common distractions? Do you have ways to eliminate them?


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Anonymous said...


It is so easy to get off track. What I do is a "One Hour List" It is very simple. Ask yourself the question.

q: "If I only have one hour to work today, what is important to get done and why is it important?"

This question will get you to focus on the things that have to get done and clear your mind of distractions.

Just a trick that I have to play on myself to keep moving sometimes.

- David Bullock

Anita said...

I sometimes mutter to myself: "Ok, what do I have to do RIGHT NOW." But that sorta stresses me out even more. I like the idea of one-hour work...takes some of the pressure off but still helps me stay focused. Love that idea! Thanks for posting...

Andres said...

Excellent post - thanks for the tips!

Anita said...

Totally consumed,
I've had a lot of people respond to this post through Twitter, and the one thing I've learned is that you've got to set the limits that work best for you. I know that some find Twitter a great distraction, and have cut back. Others find it energizes them and enables them to generate new leads and ideas. I hope these tips help people seek the solution that works best for them.

Anonymous said...

My most common distraction at work is the wide, open Internet. Seriously, I can blow through 30 minutes of web surfing before I'm even conscious of what I'm doing!

Anita said...

It's the same for me. I once set a kitchen timer for 45 minutes so that I could track how quickly I was getting things done. I felt like I had only been on the Internet for five minutes...seriously! ...when that timer went off. I learned how much of a time suck the Internet is and how badly I underestimated the impact on my productivity.
Thanks for posting.