Dealing With Distractions At Work

The modern working environment is full of distractions and many employees find it challenging to stay focused on the work and achieve the tasks they need to complete.Working hard

We can all probably relate to the problems of working in an open plan office environment and the challenges this can create when trying to focus on completing a particular task. This less than ideal environment, coupled with the constant flow of information from email, the internet and social media, means it is not surprising that many of us try to manage our time by multi-tasking in order to keep on top of our high workloads. We try to do multiple things at the same time, shifting our attention from one task to another then back again.

As creatures of habit this rapid jumping from one task to another can quickly become ingrained as a habitual way of working. Yet multi-tasking in this way leads to increased feelings of distraction and ultimately to higher levels of anxiety and eventually burn out. On the way our motivation and performance is adversely affected.

How then can we cope with the various distractions we face and stay focused and productive?

Whilst there are a number of things in the work place that we can’t control or change directly – such as the high work expectations of the job we do, the open plan office environment, or those with whom we have to work - we can change our way of responding to these. How we think, behave and communicate as a result of the external situation we find ourselves in is under our direct control. Furthermore the poor work habits we have formed (such as being unfocused and getting distracted by email, social media, the internet, our colleagues or our dynamic work environment) can be undone and re-formed into new more effective work habits. It's not easy, but it can be done.

The first challenge we face in changing our poor work habit of being easily distracted is to become more self-aware. Self-awareness requires a degree of inner discipline: a willingness to stop and take a look at how we do what we do. When we become self-aware of our work habits, then we can do something about them. It’s a bit like shining a spotlight on ourselves in order to recognise that we have a problem.

Having recognised the problem, we then need to be willing to make an effort to change what we have been doing habitually. And this means re-training our mind to pay attention to one thing at a time.

Our intentions at the start of the day have a strong influence on what we then do. So telling yourself at the start of each day that you want to slow down, stay focused and pay attention to one thing at a time can help you to do just this. And the more you practice doing just one thing at a time, the more likely this will become a habitual way of working – and one that allows you to remain focused regardless of what is happening around you.

Six other things you can work on that will help you to improve your focus and effectiveness are:

1. Get out of the habit of rushing from one meeting to another without a break. Back to back meetings are rarely 100% effective.
2. Catch yourself when you are trying to do several tasks at a time. Stop, look at the priorities and pick the most important to do - then finish that task before starting a new one.
3. Take regular short breaks to clear your mind. Go for a short walk (preferably out of the office) as a change in scenery for just ten minutes can make a big difference to you staying focused throughout the rest of the day.
4. Catch up socially with your colleague when making a cup of coffee or tea, or in your lunch break. This helps reduce the social chit chat that would otherwise happen at your desk.
5. Use routine events – such as the telephone ringing, going to the bathroom or drinking a cup of tea – as a signal to help you refocus.
6. Control your email by disabling the notifications and setting aside specific times when you will check and process this incoming information.

To train ourselves to stay focused at work requires self-discipline. You will need to take responsibility to increase your self-awareness, to develop good time management habits and so manage yourself more effectively.