8 workplace distractions—and how to overcome them

Meetings, multitasking and gossip fests can, of course, divert you from doing your work—but so can clutter and hunger. Consider these productivity killers and simple ways to disarm them.

Annoying workplace distractions

If your workplace is anything like “The Office,” you have to put up with all sorts of distractions.

Hopefully, your company is less chaotic than the Scranton branch—and your boss is not an utter buffoon like Michael Scott—but it’s always wise to steel yourself against workplace annoyances.

Here are eight common distractions to address:

1. Smartphone notifications

On average, Americans check their phones every 12 minutes. That comes out to 80 times a day. In a 2016 CareerBuilder survey, smartphones were listed as the main productivity killer in the workplace, and it’s almost certainly gotten worse since then. Between texts, social media and game notifications, we’re increasingly addicted to our phones.

The easiest way to prevent smartphone distractions is by turning the phone off, putting it in airplane mode, or using an app such as SelfControl, Freedom or Anti-Social to block distracting apps. Some people even leave their phone in a drawer or another room to avoid temptation.

2. The internet

According to Ofcom’s Adults’ Media User and Attitudes Report 2018, internet users spend an entire day each week online. Four in 10 U.K. adult internet users said they spend too much time online, and nearly a third said they wanted to spend less time online.

Here’s the problem: We’re expected to be online at work thanks to email, messaging apps and online platforms.

One solution is to set certain times of the day to check email and other messages. If willpower is a concern, use an app such as StayFocusd or Strict Workflow, which will limit your access to distracting websites for specific amounts of time. For example, you could block Slack for 90 minutes, allowing you to focus on more pressing matters without going off on tangents.

3. Gossiping and chatty co-workers

Interacting with your colleagues can be a good thing; it can build a friendly and collaborative atmosphere. However, constant drama, gossip and disrespect can create a toxic work environment. As Annie McKee writes in “How to Be Happy at Work,” these toxic conditions “result in fear, cynicism, lack of trust, anger and withholding of time, energy and talent, not to mention deep and pervasive unhappiness.”

Don’t encourage or partake in gossiping or bullying. Most important, look for ways to solve these issues. For example, if two team members have constant friction, seat them away from each other to minimize conflict.

What about those colleagues you get along with but can never get away from because they’re always talking? Set firm boundaries. If they need help on a project, let them know you can discuss it with them when you’re done with your work. If they want to talk about the season finale of “Westworld,” ask to talk about it during a break.

You may even want to consider flexible schedules and remote options so you and your team can occasionally get away from noisy, intrusive co-workers.

4. Meetings

Bain & Co. has found that 15% of workers’ time is spent in meetings, and HR professionals spend more than 20% of their day attending meetings.

Thankfully, you can schedule shorter, more productive meetings. Make sure the meeting is absolutely necessary. You might skip that weekly status meeting in favor of updates via email, Slack or your project management tool.

If a meeting is necessary, invite only key stakeholders, have a clear purpose and agenda in advance, and stick to a time limit. Keep meetings lean and mean so people can get back to what they were working on. You might also implement “no meeting” days.

5. Office politics

“While noise can certainly impact an employee’s ability to focus, what’s even more distracting is office politics. Simply put, favoritism and politics have no role in the workplace,” writes Andre Lavoie. “If certain staff members are trying to undermine others and gain favor, employees will lose their concentration. Plus, a dog-eat-dog mentality will be created and damage employee morale.”

To avoid this, stick to facts. For example, use performance metrics to identify your “A” players. This way, there’s no question who deserved praise or a promotion.

6. Hunger

It’s around noon, and you’re famished. All you can think about is demolishing a cheeseburger.

You can’t just fill up on greasy food and go back to work—the food you eat can affect your productivity. That burger may have satisfied your hunger, but because it’s fatty, you’re going to get groggy.

In order to satisfy your hunger while ensuring you don’t crash in the afternoon, “Best Place to Work” author Ron Friedman suggests deciding what you’re going to eat before you get hungry. If you wait until you’re hungry, you’ll have less self-control, meaning you’ll eat something unhealthy. Also, it prevents you from worrying about what you’re going to eat all morning. It helps to graze throughout the day to avoid peaks and valleys.

7. Clutter

If you have a pile of unsorted paperwork, how can you expect to find your electric bill when you need it? What’s more, when working on something that’s challenging, our minds start to wander toward that clutter.

Clutter is an easy fix. Just straighten up your workspace, and make sure everything goes back where it belongs.

8. Multitasking

Multitasking doesn’t work. Our minds weren’t meant to toggle from one task to another. Instead of checking your emails while on the phone with a client, focus on one task at a time. Once it’s been completed, move to the next.

A version of this post first appeared on the Calendar blog.

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