Contact me for psychotherapy, counselling & coaching in Sydney or online | [email protected] | M: +61 427 357 607

How to overcome distractions at work when you really need to focus

The average full-time worker loses more than 50 hours every month due to workplace distractions and that’s not even considering distractions outside of work. This is a lot! If you think that’s not you, then maybe this will resonate, the average person gets interrupted every 8 minutes at work, which can be up to 60 times a day depending on your hours. 


Allowing yourself to be distracted when you’re trying to focus on a task is so common that most people aren’t even aware when they’re being distracted, even just a little. They’re also unaware of how much these small distractions are affecting their productivity and even worse, work quality. So, consider the small and big distractions at your work that could be affecting your productivity.  


What is a distraction?

A distraction in simple terms is something that prevents you from concentrating on something else. So, if you aren’t focused, you’re more than likely distracted, as focus requires concentration on something, in particular, to bring it into view. An interruption is a distraction. 


How distractions affect productivity

No matter what work you do, or who you work with, distractions in the workplace are responsible for a number of unproductive hours at work. And it takes 23 minutes to get back to where you were, in terms of level of focus, after you have been distracted. 


7 Signs you are easily distracted at work

If you feel you’re always busy, and you’re not getting as much done as you’d like, you may be allowing yourself to be distracted too easily. 


1. You underestimate how much time a task takes

You may be forgetting to include the setup and breakdown of the tasks you need to do and as a result, don’t include it in your estimation of how long the task will take. Remember to include the whole time needed for the task, including before the task, during, and after so that you have time to complete the task to the expected standard.


2. You overestimate how much uninterrupted time you have

When you diarise the time to get a task or project completed often your assumption is without interruptions. Depending on your situation, you may be able to train those around you to minimise interruptions at particular times of the day, although this may not be a guarantee of no interruptions. So, add a little time to your tasks to account for being interrupted. Remember an interruption can take up to 23 minutes to recover from, depending on what tasks you were interrupted during. 


3. You have no systems and processes in place to minimize distractions

When you systemize tasks and create processes for your projects, it will help you to better estimate how long it takes to get things done. Creating a to-do list, turning off distractions, using planners, and organizing how you’ll do each task are all strategies that will increase your productivity without the need for constant busyness. 


4. You have an all or nothing mindset 

Even if you can’t stop people from interrupting you, you can still organize your workflow to boost your productivity by allocating tasks according to your energy levels across the day. Take advantage of what you can control even if you can’t control everything because when you own and manage what you have power over, your productivity will automatically go up.  


5. You can’t remember how to do infrequent recurring tasks 

One of the biggest time wasters happens to be those tasks you don’t have to do all the time but do quarterly or yearly. It’s hard to remember what to do and often you need to check or confirm processes with others before you proceed. Instead of relying on your memory or others, take notes about the process so that when it’s time to do the task as per your calendar entry, you can simply take out your checklist and proceed.


6. You practice multitasking interrupting your flow 

If you try to work with distractions like people stopping by your desk, phone calls, sudden noises or anything that interrupts your ability to focus on what you’re doing, you’re causing yourself to take longer to get tasks done. As a result, the work will take longer to do, and it may not have as well reasoned, logical flow as if it would if you completed it without interruptions. This is particularly true for documents and presentation preparation. Any distractions break your flow, no matter how quick they are to resolve and get back to your task. 


7. You avoid taking breaks 

One way to avoid letting distractions break your flow is to start taking regular planned breaks during a project or task that takes longer than about 90 minutes. You may find you have to work your way up to 90 minutes in 20-minute increments if 90 minutes is a stretch for you. Planned short breaks of 5 – 10 minutes enable your brain to recharge itself before the next stretch of concentration. After 90 minutes of concentration on a task, it is harder for your brain to work at its optimum level, without training. Most people believe they are more productive when taking short breaks. 


How to overcome the most common distractions at work 

According to Team Stage the biggest distractions at work are smartphones (55%), the internet (41%), office gossip (37%), and checking social media (37%), and co-workers (37%). Meetings, background noise, checking emails, and smoking or snack breaks also feature high on the list.


1. Smartphones, social media, and the internet 

Research shows that a considerable amount of time is taken up with distractions provided by smartphones, social media, and the internet. It is estimated employees spend 21hrs a week online on non-work-related sites, and 7.5hrs per week browsing social media at work. Depending on your job, you may have convinced yourself that being connected all day long is needed. However, this is not true. Set up regular breaks just for checking your smartphone, social media those non-work chores that need to be done during work hours. 


2. Co-workers

It is possible that this could be the reason why many people during the height of the pandemic found themselves to be more productive than in the office. Co-workers are cited as a significant contributor to distractions in the workplace, especially chatty ones or ones who like to gossip and share information. The next time you want to interrupt a co-worker because you have found out some juicy information, consider whether there may be a better time to discuss what you know. You may even save yourself some time by forgetting to pass it on or having someone else pass it on before you. 


3. Meetings

Meetings are often considered an unproductive activity and therefore a major distraction. Ensure that when you are invited to meetings, you understand the topic and what your likely contribution may be. If that is unclear, it could be an opportunity for you to discreetly manage the meeting organiser to be clear on the purpose of the meeting and the roles of those invited. You may also choose if you have the option to delegate attendance to someone else in your team.


4. Email

When email was introduced, there was a lot of talk about the paperless office. That was a key selling point which has yet to materialise. What email has allowed however is the wide distribution of information at the click of a button, leaving the responsibility with the receiver to determine how across the information they need to be. This explosion of communication has led to employees checking their email up to 121 times a day, so that they can stay across the many conversations they have been included in via their inbox. To minimise email distractions, set aside times in your day when you review your inbox. Often knowing there is time set aside for it, relieves the tension of a growing inbox when you are busy.


5. Thirst and hunger

Irregular eating patterns could be making it hard for you to stay focused on your work. As your hunger grows your body will naturally concentrate less as it’s trying to get your attention to feed it. And if you give into unhealthy food because it’s quickly accessible that will only provide you with short-term relief. Plan your meals and snacks so that hunger and thirst don’t distract you from doing your best work. 


While these 5 distractions at work are not the whole picture, they do contribute to most of the distractions you encounter at work. So, if you employed the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) and focused on decreasing the impact of these, your productivity will increase and you will experience a noticeable sense of accomplishment when it does.


If you feel you are being distracted at work by things inside or outside work and don't know how you can start to focus, then please book in a confidential call with me and we can explore together how you can overcome your distractions and regain your focus so you can be productive again.

Join the VIP list! 

Members of the VIP list receive tips on how to work, sleep and feel better, free downloadable content and more in the weekly newsletter delivered on Tuesdays.


50% Complete

Download my eBook: Strategies for Managing Your Emotions