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Last Updated on August 12, 2019

7 Most Common Distractions at Work (And How to Tackle Them)

7 Most Common Distractions at Work (And How to Tackle Them)

As you sit down to read this article, I’m guessing you’ve experienced distractions at work at least once already today, probably more than once.

Chances are you may be interrupted before you actually finish reading this article.

The simple truth is that we all face distractions at work every single day, and typically every single hour, something or someone may cause you to be distracted.

With so many meetings to attend, conversations or drop-ins by coworkers, calls, emails, social notifications and numerous other interruptions, it can often feel like a real challenge to stay productive and get the important things done.

Distractions lower our productivity and energy.

They affect our ability to focus and stick with projects or tasks long enough to see them through.

If you think about your working week, I’m sure you can list out 5 to 10 things or people that have created distractions at work.

But how many of those distractions are self-inflicted and how many are the result of your working environment?

Why Should You Get Rid of Distractions at Work?

Nearly 3 out of 4 workers (70%) admit they feel distracted at work, with 16% of people stating that they’re almost always distracted.[1]

The Impact of workplace distractions, according to the report, included:

  • 54% said they “Aren’t performing as well as they should”
  • 50% said they “Are significantly less productive”
  • 20% said they are “Not able to reach full potential and advance in their career”

The same survey from Udemy cited the top benefits of reducing workplace distraction from those interviewed:

  • 75% stated “I get more done and I’m more productive”
  • 57% stated “I’m motivated to do my best”
  • 51% stated “I’m more confident in my ability to do my job well”
  • 49% stated “I’m happier at work”
  • 44% stated “I deliver higher quality work”

Top distractions identified by Udemy for Business in their survey included talkative co-workers (cited by 80% of workers surveyed), and office noise (70%).

Meetings were blamed for low productivity by 60% of respondents, while 58% said that, although they don’t need social media to do their jobs, they couldn’t make it through the working day without checking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

7 Common Distractions At Work (And How to Tackle Them)

A 2016 survey of 2,000 US hiring and HR managers by CareerBuilder showed that the top distraction culprits included smartphones (55%), the internet (41%), gossip (37%), social media (37%), co-workers dropping by (27%), smoking or snack breaks (27%), email (26%), meetings, (24%), and noisy co-workers (20%).[2]

Almost three-quarters of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder said that two or more hours a day were lost in productivity because of workplace distractions, with nearly half (43%) estimating they lost three or more hours a day.

A Survey of 2,000 people by financial management service Think Money in the UK reported that a third of employees are distracted at work for up to three hours a day.[3]

So, imagine if you have had fewer distractions at work and you were able to increase your focus and get more of your best work done.

With these surveys on workplace distractions in mind, I’ve identified the major 7 distractions you are probably facing right now and some actionable strategies to help you overcome them to increase your productivity and creativity:

1. Chatty Co-Workers

Building relationships with your team and your colleagues at work is essential.

Daily conversations are important for building a friendly, collaborative culture and atmosphere within the office, but it’s easy to get trapped in endless conversations and gossip.

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If your door is always open, it’s very easy for someone to pop their head into the office to ask questions, which takes you away from your productive work.

How to Stay Focused and Lessen the Distraction

If you’re having problems with persistently chatty or distracting team members, try having a discrete conversation with them about the impact it’s having on your day.

Alternatively, close your office door if you have one. Another method to use if you need to be focused and concentrate is to put on a pair of headphones (if your office allows).

2. Office Noise

Research by Kim and de Dear at the University of Sydney revealed that 30 per cent of workers in cubicles and around 25 per cent in partition-less offices were unhappy with noise levels at work.[4]

Research from Ipsos and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase shows that 85% of people are dissatisfied with their working environment and can’t concentrate. Of those surveyed 95% said working privately was important to them, but only 41% said they could do so, and 31% had to leave the office to get work completed.[5]

More than 10,000 workers across 14 countries were surveyed, and key findings also showed that:

  • Office workers are losing 86 minutes a day due to distractions
  • Many employees are unmotivated, unproductive and overly stressed
  • They have little capacity to think and work creatively and constructively

If you work in a big or small office, I’m sure you’ve experienced that offices can get really loud, whether it’s conversations, phone calls, music or other noises.

How to Stay Focused and Lessen the Distraction

If you have an office, the simplest thing to do is close the door so you can get some privacy and focused, quiet time.

When you have co-workers that you know are creating a lot of the noise, can you approach them and have a quiet conversation about how their actions are affecting your ability to focus? Do you have to work from your desk?

If you have a specific project you need to work on where you need quiet, uninterrupted time explore working from a quiet space within your building.

Alternatives include working from home (if possible) or from another location such as a park or café.

There will always be noise in an office and most of the time it will be bearable, but occasionally you need to change up your environment to get your most important work done.

3. Email Consumption

According to Tim Ferriss, we need t:

“limit email consumption and production. This is the greatest single interruption in the modern world.”

We all know how distracting e-mail can be.

In a typical day how many emails do you receive and send?

Does this sound familiar?

You are working on an important project and you get a notification that you have received an e-mail message.

Now you have two choices.

You can stop what you’re doing and break your focus and read the email, or, you can stay on task and look at the email later.

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Many people go through their whole day like this. They are fully engaged on working on something important and then an email notification pops up.

You stop what you’re doing, switch to your inbox, and read the email, oftentimes an email that is completely irrelevant and contributes nothing to your current priorities.

These emails can create a constant feeling of busyness and will often result in unfinished projects at the end of the day.

This in turn, can create a feeling that we haven’t actually really had a productive day.

How to Stay Focused and Lessen the Distraction

Time blocking

Set aside a specific amount of uninterrupted time to work on a project or task. Commit to not looking at emails (or answering phone calls) during this period of time.

Based on Tim’s advice, I have resolved to check e-mail only twice a day. It is already having an enormous impact. Here’s what I suggest:

Work in offline mode

Set your computer or laptop to offline mode, and let the email messages accumulate in your inbox until you’re ready to answer them.

Rather than viewing and answering emails one by one, let them accumulate and then set aside focused time to process and respond to the emails.

Batch email responding will take less time than answering them one by one, and it allows you to stay focused on the project at hand without being distracted.

Check e-mail at certain times each day

This method has been introduced by a number of my entrepreneurial coaching clients and it has helped them free up time and stay more focused.

Your work circumstances will be different, so it’s important to find a process that works for you and other members of your team.

One method is to have two specific times a day to check your emails, another maybe three times a day – morning, lunchtime and in the hour before you leave to ensure you are all caught up.

If you decide to implement this technique it would be wise to create an out of office message.

Don’t check e-mail first thing

This technique may be difficult to implement depending on your circumstances, but if you can, you will be way more productive. Here’s why.

Rather than checking email first thing, instead spend this precious time when you are more energized and focused working on your one or two biggest priorities for the day.

4. Smartphone Usage (And Other Devices)

Continually looking at your phone interrupts work flow and focus.

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According to recent research from Deloitte, the average person checks his or her smartphone 47 times a day.[6]

If you use the average of 47 times a day and you’re working an 8-hour workday, that means you may be checking your phone almost 6 times every hour.

That’s enough to distract anybody.

We all know that smartphones and other devices frequently interrupt us, and take our attention away from the project or task we’re working on.

It’s easy to frequently take a break from our important tasks to check our phones, watches, and other gadgets.

How to Stay Focused and Lessen the Distraction

Move your phone elsewhere

It’s very tempting to check our phones, even if we’re working on an important project.

The solution? Put your phone in a drawer or move it out of arm’s length so you won’t be tempted to take a quick look.

Turn off notifications

Turn off all notifications that don’t require immediate attention, especially social media notifications. This includes email if you have that set up on your phone as well.

If some notifications really matter, make them silent and hide them from your lock screen.

5. Social Media

How much time do you spend on social media at work? Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest… The list of apps and websites that come together to claim so much of our attention is nearly endless.

There is a constant stream of information available out there, from our friends and colleagues, from news outlets, from our companies. Some of your colleagues are probably checking their social media right now as you read this article.

In a TED Talk by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, he said going on social media is like going to the casino.

You’re anticipating getting likes and you come out of it. You go back in thinking, “I’ll get the reward next time. I’ll get the reward next time. I’ll get the reward next time.” And you just sit around waiting for a notification to come around so you can go back.

How to Stay Focused and Lessen the Distraction

Like your smartphone usage and email, try to set specific timeframes or parameters when you will check social media.

Ensure all notifications are turned off when you have to spend focused, productive time on a specific task or project.

Take a look at this article to learn more: 9 Steps to Disconnect from Social Media and Connect With Life Again

6. Meetings

During a busy week, the last thing a leader or manager wants is a wasted hour or two sat in an unproductive meeting.

If I asked you what the most efficient way to be inefficient would be, I’m sure many of you would say “bad meetings.”

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Meetings today consume more work hours than ever before. Most employees attend 62 meetings a month, but half of these are considered a waste of time.

Overall, 31 hours are spent in unproductive meetings over an average month, with 91 per cent of employees guilty of daydreaming, while 39 per cent have admitted to falling asleep.[7]

How to Stay Focused and Lessen the Distractions

For meetings to be productive and worthwhile, it’s essential that each meeting has a clear agenda and leader.

I’ve written more about how to have a productive meeting in the article: How to Lead Team Meetings in the Most Productive Way

7. Multitasking

We all have to multi-task on occasion, but the less we do it the better.

Multi-tasking reduces productivity and creativity. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Peter Bregman notes that our productivity goes down by 40% when we attempt to focus on several things at once.[8].

It takes an average of about 25 minutes (23 minutes and 15 seconds, to be exact) to return to the original task after an interruption, according to Gloria Mark.[9]

Multitasking slows us down, and reduces focus, energy and productivity. Our brains simply cannot effectively handle working on tasks simultaneously.

How to Stay Focused and Lessen the Distraction

Work in blocks of time. It minimizes the amount of distraction that’s placed on our increasingly connected lives. It not only protects us from the distractions of others, but also from our self-inflicted distractions.

Time blocking is setting aside an intentional amount of time for specific projects or tasks and making an intentional effort to not allow the distractions or interjections of others break that focus.

After that block of time is up, take a planned break, then begin the next block of focused time. Each block of focused time is dedicated to one task/project or set of similar tasks.

I use the 60-60-30 method for time blocking:

Work for 50 minutes and take a 10-minute break. Work for a further 50 minutes and take another 10-minute break. Then take 30 minutes out to recharge, which could mean having lunch, going for a walk etc.

Use the Pomodoro Technique to help you work in blocks of time.

Bottom Line

Workplace distractions will never go away. In order to use our time effectively and to increase productivity and creativity, it’s essential we understand what’s distracting us and create the systems to stop it.

I’m sure you can identify with at least one of the distractions highlighted in this article.

Hopefully, some of the teams will help you beat distractions at work and make you more effective and productive.

More About Staying Focused

Featured photo credit: Proxyclick Visitor Management System via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Udemy: 2018 Workplace Distraction Report
[2] CareerBuilder: Smartphones Sapping Productivity at Work
[3] ThinkMoney: Productivity at Work Survey
[4] Journal of Environmental Psychology: Workplace Satisfaction
[5] Ipsos/Workspace Futures Team: The Privacy Crisis
[6] Deloitte: Guess how often you use your phone every day
[7] Atlassian: You Waste a Lot of Time at Work
[8] Harvard Business Review: How (and Why) to Stop Multi-Tasking
[9] University of California, Irvine: The Cost of Interrupted Work

More by this author

Mark Pettit

Mark Pettit is a Business Coach for ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners who want to achieve more by working less.

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

Sometimes, our goals wear us down and leave us feeling exhausted. Other times, our goals get difficult, and success seems impossible, so we lose hope, become discouraged, and want to quit.

At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

Want to know the good news?

No matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

All you need to do is learn to develop a positive mindset, focus on your why, and utilize the people around you for support.

1. Develop a Positive Mindset

If you’re going to increase your mental toughness, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

Absolutely!

But how can we learn to spot those 45,600 negative thoughts and get rid of them? How can we empty our metaphorical backpack?

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Well, it gets a whole lot easier if you know what you’re looking for. Some of the most prominent types of negative thoughts are self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, and dwelling.

Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

“I’m not smart enough to…”

“I don’t have enough experience to…”

“I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively. We’re effectively working against ourselves.

If you want to keep your mind strong on your path to success, you have to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back by realizing one key truth: self-limiting beliefs are thoughts, not facts.

When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

  • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
  • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
  • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

But this isn’t true!

If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often and it will help you celebrate your smaller wins.

When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

Ditch the Dwelling

Self-Limiting Beliefs and All-or-Nothing Thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

Every day, bad things happen to each of us, and while there’s nothing we can do to prevent that, we can control how we react to these situations.

When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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But that doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

Easier said than done, right? Try these:

  1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
  2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
  3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
  4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

Be Patient about the Process

No matter which negative thoughts tend to run around your mind, working to replace them with positive thoughts can take time.

Learning to spot self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, or dwelling is one thing, but learning to quiet those thoughts is another thing entirely.

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t fret. Instead, take a deep breath and try again. As you work towards improving your mindfulness and your mental toughness, remember that you’re going to get better with time.

To make things a little easier, it helps to connect with your purpose.

2. Connect with Your Purpose

One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong ‘why’ for everything you want to do.

If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a ‘why’ for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution and things weren’t going well, maybe you even wanted to quit. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower. Maybe you told yourself that you didn’t have enough discipline.

Here’s the truth: you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

“Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a ‘why’ for. This is when we tend to look for external motivation or question our willpower, but those aren’t the issues.

Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

Find Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers.

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Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

But if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that ‘why’ is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things. Once you’ve found a strong why for all of your goals, you’ll find that you’ll have significantly more energy to pursue your more difficult challenges.

3. Find Strength in Unity

The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone. It’s a fact, anyone who’s ever achieved success in anything didn’t do so alone.

Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were there offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

If you want to stay strong in your endeavors, you need to build a team of supporters who will step in and back you up when it counts.

Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success.

A good mentor will help you discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

Recruit Some Cheerleaders

If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

Even if you have a strong ‘why’ and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. And when they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs or your all-or-nothing attitude.

Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

Form an Accountability Group

Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong ‘why’ for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

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Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

Even if your goals aren’t the same, accountability partners are great for giving us the push we need when we need it most.

Regardless of which relationships you choose, sometimes we have to be able to work through things on our own. Mentors, cheerleaders, and accountability partners are a great way for us to combat our naturally negative mindsets, but occasionally we have to be able to pick ourselves back up.

4. Learn to Pick Yourself Back Up After Setbacks

Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

We all struggle. We all fail. It’s what we decide to do after we fail that truly counts.

When you find yourself in a low spot, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
  • “Are negative thoughts such as Self-Limiting Beliefs or All-or-Nothing Thinking distorting my view?”
  • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
  • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
  • “Is this goal still important to me? Do I still have a ‘why’?”
  • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or cheer me on? Who can help hold me accountable?”

Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged. When we feel discouraged, we start feeling weak, maybe even a little hopeless.

Also, this article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

Tying it All Together

Are you still with me? I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, from developing a positive mindset and combatting your internal voice to connecting with purpose and building a committee of mentors. It’s a lot to take it!

But here’s the bottom line:

A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize these tendencies and taking action to correct them early on. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

More About Mental Strength

Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

Reference

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