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9 Ways to Limit Distractions at Work


12/16/2011 9:54:09 PM

By Angela Rose, BioSpace.com

How many times are you distracted at the office on an average day? What do you think these interruptions cost you in productive work time? The answer is probably more than you think. According to a survey of more than 500 workers conducted by uSamp, more than 50 percent of workers waste an hour or more each day on interruptions. Sixty percent are regularly interrupted by email and other electronic missives while 40 percent cite phone calls and communicative colleagues as the biggest distractions. The survey estimated that distractions cost businesses more than $10,000 per worker per year.

If you want to work productively, you need to limit office distractions. Here are nine suggestions to help you produce your best work in the least amount of time.

1. Practice DND – We’re not talking Dungeons and Dragons here, but Do Not Disturb. Schedule time each day when interruptions are punishable by vigorous beatings with wet noodles (or least disgusted glares). If you have an office door, shut it. If you have a cubicle, hang a sign at the entrance or tape a note to your back. Even one hour in the morning and one in the afternoon can be enough to keep your projects on track.

2. Just Say No – Nancy Regan almost had it right. Always say no to multitasking. Trying to do too many things at once is a surefire way to end up with errors and slipshod work. Allow yourself to work on one thing and one thing only at any given time –even if it’s only for fifteen minutes.

3. Hide Out – Literally. If your coworkers refuse to allow you a moment of peace, grab your work and head for an unused office or conference room. If the weather is nice, find a quiet place outside. Even a few minutes away from your desk will do wonders for your concentration.

4. Embrace Voicemail – Voicemail deserves a big, warm hug. If you’re frequently interrupted by the phone, set calls to go directly to voicemail (or ask the receptionist to forward them there). Just as with DND, even a few hours scheduled without phone interruption each day may be enough.

5. Act Frazzled – If you’re busy, look busy. Type furiously. Smudge a little ink on your cheek. Stomp through the halls with purpose. When you’re interrupted, respond politely (with just a hint of irritation) that you’re in the middle of something but would appreciate an email. I find that continuing to type while staring at the offending coworker and nodding vigorously works quite well –though it does take a bit of practice.

6. Stick to a Schedule – It’s tempting to check email every time that little letter icon pops up in the lower right-hand corner of your monitor. Don’t do it. Try to focus on one thing and one thing only for at least 15 minutes at a time. Schedule time to check email throughout the day, map out the projects you’ll be working on and when.

7. Clean Off Your Desk – Out of sight, out of mind, or so the saying goes. If you don’t want to be distracted by thoughts of all the other things you need to get done, keep them off your desk. This means no piles of magazines that need to be read or stacks of files that need to be reviewed. Put everything in a drawer except for the work you’re currently focusing on.

8. Drown it Out – If you work in a noisy environment, white noise (like a fan) or music (through headphones) may help you to concentrate on the work at hand. Incidentally, I’ve found people are much less likely to interrupt you when you’re wearing headphones, maybe because it takes more effort on their end to get your attention (just don’t look up).

9. Shift Your Schedule – When does everyone else come into the office? Come in a couple hours earlier. When do they all leave? Stay a few hours later. If your job offers schedule flexibility, this is a fantastic way to guarantee uninterrupted work time.

When you reduce office distractions, you’ll find that you’re able to be more productive as well as produce work of higher quality –and both are results your employer will value.

About the Author

Angela Rose researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for BioSpace.com.

Check out the latest Career Insider eNewsletter - December 22, 2011.

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