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Distractions at work: deal with every type

Last updated on
September 24, 2021

Producing high-quality work feels amazing, but takes a huge amount of effort. When you’re trying to get in the zone, the last thing you need is a tap on the shoulder. Or a phone call. Or a 10-minute reminder for that meeting you never speak in. We explore the main distractions at work we face on a daily basis to discuss what you can actively do about them.

Distraction at work by others

As our tasks, physiology and psychology change, so do our workplace needs. Collaboration is brilliant, but sometimes the last thing you need to do your work is other people. If you’ve ever worked in an open office you’ll have felt the sting of this. Here are just a few of the ways people will distract you at work:

  • Direct interruption
  • Noise (calls, chat, gossip, desk meetings)
  • Movement
  • Digital communication
  • Phone calls

Overcome distractions

One option is to remove yourself from your office workspace. Book meeting rooms for tasks requiring silent focus and talk to your boss about sometimes working from home. You know what kind of environment you need to deliver a certain task; your manager is there to support that. You could even trial moving to a different desk in the office to see if it helps.

The other option is to try and change your office workspace. Wear headphones to signal you’re not to be disturbed, mute notification pop-ups on your devices, or flat out tell people that they’re disrupting you. The best company cultures are considerate; calling out disrespectful behaviour is part of that.

Self-distraction at work

Sometimes you are your biggest threat to getting stuff done. Whilst you may recognize some of your worst distracting behaviours, you may not realize how much time they steal from you. Some are also productive habits, so it’s hard to identify them as self-distraction. These are the biggest culprits to be aware of:

  • Multi-tasking
  • Using non-work-related apps
  • Checking email
  • Internet browsing

Overcome distractions

Schedule your workload to help you focus on one task at a time. Some people like to-do lists, some like task organization apps, some schedule their work calendar ahead. Whatever your method, prioritize your work, block out dedicated time for each task across your week and commit to it. Make sure it’s visible on your calendar so no one tries to snap you up.

Understand how you distract yourself so you can put measures in place to control your bad habits. Time trackers like Timely are great for this – they show how much time you spend on specific websites, checking email, taking calls and social media. Without necessarily turning your phone or smartwatch off entirely, once you know your weaknesses you can set up barriers to help you manage them better.

Structural distractions at work

It’s all well trying to reform your colleagues and address your own bad habits, but some workplace distractions are structural. They’re the result of deep-seated processes and attitudes, and require company-wide conversations. These include:

  • Pointless meetings
  • A policy of instant availability
  • Inefficient processes & admin
  • Disrespectful behaviour

Overcome distractions

Not all meetings are necessary. Consider adopting an opt-in approach to meeting invites and always push to keep the headcount as small as necessary. Does everyone have to be there? Can some people just updated in the post-meeting email? Forget office egos and consider whose attendance actually matters.

Revisit your company’s communications policy. Without a set approach, people assume they need to be immediately available and drop whatever they’re doing to respond. Let employees set their own expectations for non-urgent communication, whether that involves muting Slack notifications or checking email at a few set times each day.

Streamline your company’s basic processes. Review your project management workflow to make them as lean as possible, and either streamline or relieve admin that takes employees away from their work. Invest in tools or people to ensure things like timesheet registration, requesting leave and invoicing don’t interrupt your workforce.

To ensure people respect each other’s wellbeing, you need a solid company culture. Defining values and creating a framework to protect them helps you cultivate a supportive, emotionally aware workforce.

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