According to a survey conducted by Udemy, workplace distractions negatively impact performance, productivity, and potential. What’s more, to compensate for these interruptions, people work faster. A UC Irvine study shows that this increases stress and frustration. And, even a brief interruption doubles an employee’s error rate.
In short, constant distractions don’t just affect the bottom line. They can also be detrimental to an individual's health.
How can you address these workplace distractions before they become an issue?
You need to start by identifying what’s exactly distracting your team. Knowing what the distraction is and how it is happening can help you make a plan to squash these interruptions. Here are 12 of the most common disturbances that you should address in your workplace -- ASAP.
No surprise here. After all, the average person in the U.S. views their phone 52 times a day. And, it’s easy to understand why. We’re bombarded throughout the day with emails, texts, social media notifications, and phone calls. Additionally, we use our phones to jot down reminders, view our calendars, listen to a podcast, or go shopping. No wonder we’re addicted.
Overcoming your reliance on your smartphone is no easy task, but it’s not impossible. The tried and true methods are to put your phone on airplane mode or use the phone's “do not disturb” function. This action can be done on both Android or iPhone. You can also place your phone in another room or leave it in a desk drawer, bag or purse.
Scheduling specific times throughout the day also helps cut down on "during work-hours usage." For example, I turn my phone on silent when I need to focus solely on my work. Usually, this takes around two hours. After I’ve completed my work, I check my phone to make sure I haven’t missed anything important. To ensure that I don’t get too consumed, I only give myself 10 minutes of phone-time before diving back into work.
We send out a lot of emails. How many? Well, in 2017 a staggering 269 billion emails were sent daily worldwide. That email figure is expected to jump to around 333 billion in 2019.
Like your smartphone, there’s also the temptation to stop what you’re doing and check your inbox as soon as a new message arrives. Unfortunately, if you did this all day, how could you possibly get any work done?
The easiest solution is to turn off your email notifications on your phone. You should also close any apps or web browsers containing your email. I also use an app like SaneBox to manage my inbox because it filters out the messages that aren’t important.
The most important thing to remember is if there’s an emergency, you aren’t just going to be notified via email. People will call you or knock on your door. Everything else can wait until you have the scheduled time to go through your inbox.
3. Background noise
Take a moment and really listen to all of the noise going on in an office. People are talking, machines running, phones ringing, and doors opening/closing. That’s not even getting into the annoyances like coughing, loud snacking, or music playing.
Background noise is inevitable. If it becomes too distracting, you should invest in noise-canceling headphones or relocating to a quieter area when you need to give a task 100 percent of your attention. I’ve also found that apps like Noisli can drown-out background noise, while also improving my focus.
4. People interruptions
Like background noise, interruptions from employees, customers, suppliers, and family are unavoidable. Engineers on Quora identified, “shoulder tapping," as one of their most common distractions.
One way around this is keeping your office door closed when you don’t want to be disturbed. For good measure, place a "do not disturb" sign on the door. If you work in an open office space, send signals like wearing headphones and being honest. If someone has a direct and work-related question, give them the answer and move on.
Another tactic is to plan for these interpretations. For example, you could block out in your calendar a period where you're available for pop-ins. I also add some buffer time between tasks and meetings. This way if someone comes to me with a question it’s not going to throw my entire schedule out-of-whack.
While in small doses a little clutter can encourage a creative mind, the fact is that a messy workplace affects your ability to focus and process information. Confusion and disorder are essentially a to-do-list that reminds you of everything that needs to be done. As such, it pulls you away from being present. Over time, this makes you more anxious and stressed.
The fix? Keep your workspace clean and organized. Toss out the items you no longer need. Place paperwork in the appropriate files. Ideally, you should put as much paperwork on the cloud as possible to reduce the number of filing cabinets. Make sure that all of your office supplies have a home and are returned at the end of the day.
Even if you don’t do this daily, you should at least clean your workspace every week. For example, on a Friday afternoon is perfect. You’ve probably already mentally clocked-out for the week, so this is a soft task that can be done quickly.
I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of juggling too many tasks at once. You’re a successful entrepreneur -- why can’t you juggle multiple responsibilities at once? The truth is that our brains are not capable of focusing on more than one thing at a time.
Multitasking doesn’t save time or make you more productive. It actually slows you down. "Switching from task to task, you think you're actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you're actually not, "neuroscientist Earl Miller told NPR. "You're not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly."
Additionally, when you multitask you make more mistakes, reduce creative thinking, and are potentially damaging your brain. Multi-tasking was one of the more difficult bad habits I had to overcome. There are still times when I find myself doing more than one thing at once. I’ve been able to change this habit by creating blocks of time for specific tasks into my calendar app.
For example, I set aside a couple of hours to write this article. During this timeframe, my phone was off, and the office door closed. When my mind began to wonder, I would stand-up and walk around the office for a couple of minutes to clear my head. Sounds simple, but this habit is not easy to break. Leaving my desk for a few minutes encouraged me to only focus on composing this piece instead of doing five other things at the same time. Only then did I jumped into my next priority.
Conversing with your employees, colleagues, and business partners are all essential for building a friendly and collaborative company culture. However, spending too much talking about “Game of Thrones” or gossiping isn’t just a major distraction. Hearsay, itself, can also create a toxic workplace.
As a leader, you just can not allow gossip in the workplace. It needs to be addressed and handled immediately -- even if it’s something dire like letting an employee go. As for friendly chit-chat, you need to set boundaries.
If someone engages you in a conversation, and you’re busy, politely tell them that you currently don’t have time to talk, but you can catch-up with during lunch. And, as mentioned above, you can also send-out signals without saying anything by wearing headphones when you don’t want to be disturbed.