Dealing with Distractions at Work

Published Tuesday, May 11, 2010 10:49 AM

 

We say we waste time, but that is impossible. We waste ourselves.

 - Alice Bloch

 n April, the international community marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day with events like climate rallies and forums on building a green economy. Despite our rising awareness of the depletion of our natural environment, we have paid relatively little attention to the wasting away of another precious resource - our time.

In a recent poll, 64% of the full-time workers responding reported wasting one hour or less each day; 22% said they wasted approximately two hours daily; and 14% admitted to wasting three hours or more each workday. The main time-wasters cited were:

  • Internet use (48%)

  • Socializing with co-workers (33%)

  • Conducting personal business (30%)

  • Personal phone calls (19%)

  • Long lunches and breaks (15%)

 And the primary reasons given for all this wastefulness were:

  • Being dissatisfied with a job (48%)

  • Feeling underpaid (34%)

  • Waiting for a co-worker to finish something (42%)

  • Attending work-related meetings or activities (42%)

  • Doing administrative work (32%)

Acknowledging these stark statistics, time management experts say that employers can curb waste in the workplace by providing opportunities for employees to develop professionally and personally. Likewise, we tend to be more productive, and feel more secure, on-the-job when we receive regular recognition, praise and respect from our supervisors and co-workers.

While offering this kind of positive reinforcement is key, it is also important to recognize another major time waster at work: constant interruptions. In a recent study of workplace interruptions, scientists found that each employee spent only 11 minutes on a project before being asked to do something else. And each time a worker was distracted, it took an average of 25 minutes for them to return to the original project

Given this steady stream of interruptions, it is no wonder that many of us feel unproductive and depleted at work. But, we are not powerless. Although we cannot eliminate them, we can take steps to minimize office interruptions so we can accomplish more and stress less.

One way to diminish these distractions is to block off an hour or so each day when you:

  • Close your door (literally or by telling coworkers that you are unavailable)

  • Activate voicemail

  • Silence your smartphone

  • Ignore your email inbox

You can fortify this no-interruption zone by responding to emails only at designated times. A little communication also goes a long way. If someone comes to your office or calls when you are busy, you can politely, but firmly, say: "I only have five minutes right now. Can we set up another time to talk at greater length?"

For more practical tips on dealing with distractions at work, take a look at these articles:

As always, feel free to share your tips and tools with us here, on our blog or at the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Comments

# Antoinette Shepard said on Tuesday, May 18, 2010 7:07 PM

What kind of suggestions can you give if you don't have a door, but a cubicle and you are now doing the work of 4 people.

# Linda G. said on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 3:41 PM

Sounds great about turning on the voice mail and ignore the e-mail but I am expected to always answer my phone from 8:00-4:30 and watch for e-mail that alert us of things happening (appointments arrivng, etc...)  If I ignore these things for 10 minutes someone is saying didn't you read the e-mail!

# Sheila Dingels said on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 4:52 PM

In response to Antoinette's comment about working in a cubicle:

My organizing clients have had success with putting in earbuds and listening to an ipod or similar device to block out background noise.  I've also suggested people put signs at the entrance of their cubicle stating "Hard at work, please do not disturb...." to minimize physical interruptions

# Sue said on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 7:58 PM

One desperate person at our organization used 3 pieces of rigid foam insulation board (available at a hardware store) and tape to make a 3-panel folding screen that she places across her cubicle doorway when busy.  It has suitable "do not disturb" signs on the outward facing panels.  She also let it be widely known that when the "door" was up, she was not to be bothered.  This has actually worked.

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