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Tips for Dealing With Distractions at Work

3 Biggest Work Distractions: The Computer, Annoying Coworkers, Personal Baggage

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Updated February 13, 2013

Three of the greatest distractions at work are the computer, other workers, and your personal life. Each of these distractions can be best addressed by following one simple rule: remove the distractions.

Work Distraction #1: Internet - Land of the Lost (Work Time)

A 2012 survey (salary.com) reported at the top of the "wasted time" list was employees accessing the Internet for personal business while at work. 64% of respondents said that they visited non-work related websites every day while on the job. While only 39% said they wasted an hour or less each week of their employer's time, the remaining 61% admitted to wasting two to ten hours each work week on personal Internet tasks while at work.

At the top of the time waste list of websites was visits to Facebook (41%) and LinkedIn (37%) - perhaps looking to network for a better job? At the bottom of the website list was ESPN, Twitter, and Pinterest.
The top three reasons stated for seeking entertainment, social connections, or just general browsing on the Internet while at work were not being challenged (35%); long work hours (34%) and no incentive to work (32%.)

Men (69%) spend more time on the Internet while on their employer's time card than women (62%); and the age group that is most likely to kill work hours on personal computer time is 35-45.

The problem of overcoming the compulsion to check Facebook (every hour on the hour) while at work is so strong that an entire new product industry has emerged. Google "internet blocker productivity" and you will see a wealth of software options that are designed to limit your time and access to certain websites in much the same way parental control software limits children. Some of the programs are so hard core that if you try to adjust them to give yourself more time, or attempt to visit sites before you are allowed, they will take over your computer and ban you from certain sites for 30 days or longer.

But you do not have to go to such extremes. Wasting time at work is a habit, and habits are best broken when replaced with new habits.

Work Distraction #2: Close Encounters of the Annoying Kind

Coworkers can be a huge source of distraction - even when we don't like the person doing the interrupting. It is important to set boundaries with coworkers, the same as you do for children, dogs, and in your personal relationships.

If you know that asking someone in passing "how are you today?" will elicit a long missive about their horrible morning - stop asking. If a coworker who always ask if you can spare a minute, and it turns into an hour, next time they ask, schedule a meeting, a lunch date, or suggest an alternative such as "that's really a human resources issue" or "you should discuss that with your boss, spouse, etc." - "not me."

To tune out annoyingly loud coworkers and cubicle neighbors, try wearing earplugs or noise canceling/reduction headphones. If you are allowed to listen to music at work - even better. If someone asks you why, it is a perfect opportunity to say you don't like listening to other peoples' music, or overhearing conversations and phone calls of others.

Best line for responding to annoying coworkers who interrupt you with a personal crisis (or latest gossip): "I'm really busy right now but I'll get back to you when things calm down."

Work Distraction #3: Bringing Personal Baggage To Work

You had a fight with someone you care about. Your favorite pet is sick. It's your grandmother's birthday and you forgot to get her a present. You forgot to pack your kid's lunch. Whatever personal distractions are in the back of your mind, we all have them. The best defense against bringing your personal life to work is a good offense.

Sometimes technology itself becomes distracting (Instagram and game apps should not be your most used items on your phone!) but can also help you keep your business and personal life in check.

Schedule appointments and reminders on a device (your phone or computer) - not on a paper calendar. Microsoft Outlook is one of many PC software programs that can help you organize email, keep one master, or multiple calendars, contact lists, and even keep notes, and send you reminders. Sync your calendar, reminders, contacts, etc. with your phone. If you forget your kid's lunch on a daily basis, you can set up a simple reminder - one time - that repeats every day. You might not take your PC to work with you, but chances are your cell phone is always nearby.

You can also simply use your phone for your calendar and notes - but choose an app that will allow you to set reminder alarms. The key to simplifying your life is using as many "set it and forget it" options as possible.

When you use technology wisely, your electronic devices can do your worrying for you. If you know you are going to get a reminder, your mind will relax knowing it can forget little details that clutter your head with distractions and worries. The less you have to keep in the forefront of your mind, the better you will be able to focus more on what is right in front of you.

Tips For Dealing With Distractions At Work

  • Turn off email and all other automatic notifications. You are already a "frequent checker flyer" - you don't need more reminders you have a new message on Facebook.
  • Turn off your cell phone - especially if people send personal texts all day long.
  • Make it inconvenient to log in - log out of all websites that are not work related, in fact, if you don't need the computer, turn off the screen.
  • Keep your desk clutter free. The more visual clutter you have to deal with, the more likely you are to seek out distractions from the chaos in other things.
  • Tell workers that stop by to chat you don't have time to talk now unless it is about work. If they don't take the hint, pick up the phone and say, "sorry I was just about to make a call to a client." Pretend to dial.
  • Instead of checking in with social networks, jot a list of the things you want to accomplish that day, then take a friend to lunch to really get a social connection going.
  • Rely as much as possible on technology to "worry" for you by setting reminders for the things you have to do each day.

If the reason you find yourself distracted at work is because you are bored or don't feel challenged, the solution is even easier: ask your boss to give you more work. Most will be happy to comply.

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