How not to get distracted at work

Find yourself getting regularly side-tracked at work? Research shows you can expect to be interrupted every eight minutes. But wait, it gets worse …

Feeling distracted and unproductive is something many of us struggle with at work, but the latest stats are probably going to surprise even the most unmotivated of us.

Time management specialist Kate Christie says not only are we being disturbed every eight minutes as we go about our normal work day – but it then takes us up to 23 minutes to regain our concentration and get back to work.

That’s 20. Three. Minutes.

Interruptions are the biggest pain point

“I have surveyed thousands of professionals and business owners around the world and the number one pain point we are all experiencing at work is interruptions,” says best-selling author Kate, founder of Time Stylers.

“The modern workplace culture, coupled with open-plan working environments, encourages constant interaction – and this is taking it is toll on our productivity. Yes, collaboration is good, but we don’t need to collaborate ALL of the time.”

Kate says once interrupted, this is often what happens:

  • After the interruption you don’t generally return straight to the task at hand, taking on an average of two different tasks before returning to the original task.
  • You then tend to work faster to make up for lost time, which increases your error rate two-fold.
  • Worse still, allowing interruptions means you are forcing your brain to multitask, which impacts your productivity by up to 40 per cent.

A University of California study found workers they surveyed spent an average of only 11 minutes on any given project before being, you guessed it, interrupted.

Add in phone calls, bathroom breaks, social media checks, meetings, endless meeting, grabbing coffee or lunch, and all those requests for “just five minutes of your time”, and it’s easy to see how we can lose a huge chunk of our day on things that aren’t productive work.

How to get your work productivity back on track

“If you’re serious about taking control of your time and ensuring longer periods of focused, productive work, the first thing you need to take control of is interruptions,” Kate advises.

“This includes the number of times you self-distract – you might be your own biggest saboteur.”

OK, but what happens when Jill from accounts pops by for a chat, or it’s someone’s birthday and an impromptu lunch is called or you’ve been promising Verity for weeks you’ll catch up for coffee?

Kate’s top tips to knock distractions on the head

Tip 1

Keep a running record of how many times a day you are being interrupted or distracted, and by whom, and what prompts the interruption.

Self-evaluate, too. It may be that you are your own worst enemy.

“Record how many times you interrupt or distract yourself,” Kate advises. “And then get tough with yourself!”

Tip 2

If there is a serial saboteur in your midst, here are some options:

  • If they’re a team member in need of help, they may need further training to become more self-sufficient. Make a time to provide this training.
  • If they’re after information that only you have, you need to get that material out of your head and into an easily accessible place such as a shared drive, Kate says. That way, you aren’t the only source of knowledge.
  • And if they’re just looking for banter, politely let them know how much the interruptions are impacting you and lock in a regular weekly meeting or coffee.

Tip 3

“Be really clear on when you are at your best each day. If you are a morning person, you need to build a 10-metre-high bullet proof fence around this time to focus on your best work,” Kate says.

“Then, make yourself more available for chats, questions and interactions in the afternoons when it is not eating into your best work time.”

Tip 4

If it proves impossible to remove the distractions, remove yourself to a place where you can stay focused, even if it means working from home for the day.

Tip 5

Turn your phone off! “Yes, this does work,” Kate says.

Written by Liz McGrath.