Productivity

Three ways to manage distractions at work

Eve Ash /

It’s that time of the year (actually, it can be any time of the year) when animated emails dance into your inbox, inviting you to lunches, staff barefoot bowls, charity fundraisers and so on.

You’re tired from squinting at a never-ending database, or being pestered with complaints and inaction from colleagues. It’s only 10am and you’re glancing out the window. You’re ready for your annual leave now, but it’s several months away.

Yes, these instances are collectively described as distractions. Some of us are more prone to flightiness than others, especially when what we’re doing is boring, repetitive or plain frustrating. 

Are there good ways to manage distractions?

Stop daydreaming

Often the biggest distraction is you!

You are wandering off in your own mind. It may be you are distracted by work or home issues, or a conflict in the team. It could be wishful thinking to daydream about the holiday you can’t afford, the person you fancy or who you recently became involved with.

It would be nice to spend all day or week indulging. But that’s not where you’re at, and there’s a colleague or manager glaring at you. So, stop it for now and promise yourself the opportunity later.

It may be you need to give feedback or raise a concern. Do it when you are ready but don’t waste time distracted by it.

It is not worrying but pleasure you seek, and the good news is, you’ll enjoy it more when you’ve dealt with immediate tasks and the pressure has eased. Not only are you now ahead, but you’ve got extra time!

So mentally give that buzzing insect a swipe.

Plan and organise your time

Giving in to distraction on a regular basis is no different to dipping into the office biscuit jar. It starts with one, then another, and before you know it, you’re honing in on the kitchen like a sugar junkie.

There’s no one way to plan your day — it starts with knowing the type of worker you are and focusing on your strengths and goals.

If you prefer to work early because that’s when you’re mentally peaking, then do so. Negotiate times with your manager if you’re more of a night owl (for example, come in later, but work later).

Instigate walking meetings if you can’t stand being stationary.

Combine pleasure with purpose — buy great coffee and banana bread from that barista down the road and challenge everyone to produce three good ideas over morning tea, within the hour.

If you’re a manager, recognise everyone benefits from short-term goals, and re-jig routines accordingly. Do this for yourself if no-one else does.

See the difference between mindless wool-gathering and short bursts of energy during which you get other things done. You’ll develop greater flexibility and mental strength.

Distractions aren’t always bad

Often a distraction is something that could be important in your business. Do listen and find out what the issue is. Don’t be so closed off you send someone away who was about to give you an important warning.

True, many distractions are away from work issues. But you can choose to see a distraction as purely momentary.

Have a laugh, sandwich and a quick lively chat with the person behind the neighbouring partition about their boozy weekend or son’s graduation, grab takeaway with your boss for an hour and then get back to what you’re doing.

Distractions can be helpful breathers in a marathon of work. There’s no harm in them, provided you don’t veer off into activities that prevent you from completing the task.

We live in an age where the Puritan work ethic has been demonstrated to no longer have efficacy.

It’s quality, not quantity, of time and effort that matters. Distractions are an excellent reminder this is possible.

This piece was first published on October 30, 2017. 

NOW READ: Five common workplace distractions and how to tackle them head-on

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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