Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Tackling distractions at work

Your ability to stay focused is more than just a worthwhile thing to cultivate–it’s a critical factor in your success or failure. Getting things done is imperative, and focus is the key to getting things done.

We’ve all been there. Even with the best of intentions to stay on task, we still catch ourselves scrolling through social media when we should be working on a project. We can’t help but grab our cell phone the moment we hear a notification. And then there’s email! If we aren’t checking it every five minutes, we worry we might miss something important.

Distractions can seem impossible to avoid. Statistics show that distractions cause a massive loss in productivity. Employees generally spend 28 percent of their time dealing with unnecessary interruptions and trying to get back on track.

So, how can you take back control of your time and attention?

  1. Check up on yourself.

Distractions can be internal as well as external, so start by looking within. If you’re all over the place, ask yourself what’s really going on. What’s the source of your flightiness or anxiety? What do you need to be working on in your life?

  1. Pinpoint the cause.

Once you have your internal priorities sorted out, look at more external causes. Is it your office setup? An intrusive co-worker? A lack of skill, ideas, or time for something you need to be doing? Burnout? When you can identify the cause, you can fix the effect.

  1. Be prepared.

All successful leaders are great planners; they make lists for every major and minor objective. When a task comes your way, spend some time thinking about how you will accomplish it. Write down every step necessary from start to finish, with a timeline (even if it’s a rough one). There is a saying that every 10 minutes you spend on planning saves an hour in execution.

  1. Go offline.

Consider taking a social media detox to help clear your head of the need to be plugged in. If that seems too radical, consider establishing one or two 15-minute periods of time in the early morning or evening that allow you to log on and play.  Some of the biggest sources of distraction come from email, social media, and cell phones. If you want real focus, take yourself offline until you’ve accomplished what you need to do.

  1. Put yourself in distraction-free mode.

Begin building habits that help you eliminate distractions and stay focused. Start by creating an environment in which you’re less tempted to get preoccupied with something other than what you’re working on. If you constantly find yourself wandering over to video or shopping websites, try using a website blocker app.

Work to create habits that signal to yourself and those around you that you’re in distraction-free mode. Close the door to your office. Put on noise-canceling headphones. Turn off your phone or put it on silent and move it away from you (so you can’t easily pick it up). If you work in an open office, you may find it helpful to move to a quieter location.

Remove as many excuses and distractions as you can so you can bring your full attention to one task at a time — no multitasking.

  1. Set three main objectives every day.

A long list of things to do can feel insurmountable and leave us feeling overwhelmed. We’re ready to give up before we start, and that’s when it becomes easy to give in to distractions. You can offset this by giving yourself 3 objectives to accomplish every day. Write them on a sticky note and post it where you can see it every time you look up from your work.

By limiting the number of daily goals, you’ll have clearly defined what you need to work on. You’ll work with greater intention on those tasks and your mind will be less apt to stray.


  1. Monitor your mind wandering.

We spend nearly 50 percent of our waking time thinking about something other than what we’re supposed to be doing, according to one Harvard study. We are on autopilot, and our mind is wandering, in part to avoid the effort of focusing on something. The key to heightened productivity is to notice when your mind is distracted and bring your attention back on task.

This means paying attention to your thoughts and recognizing when your mind starts drifting. This allows you to manage what you focus on and redirect your thoughts when you slip up. Instead of allowing yourself to keep meandering over to social media to check out your news-feed, you actively put the brakes on this distraction.

Pay attention to what distractions are particularly hard to avoid, so you can catch them sooner. When you feel a desire to give in to a distraction, take a breath and purposely choose not to react to it. Once you’ve given in and allowed yourself to focus on something else, like reading emails, it’s harder to regroup and bring your attention back to the task at hand.

  1. Train your brain by making a game out of it.

Your mind is like a muscle. In order to use it effectively, you need to build it up. We need to train our brains to stay focused by gradually working on our concentration. This will strengthen our ability to focus for longer periods of time.

A great way to begin doing this is through the “Pomodoro Method,” in which you set a timer and are completely focused on a task for a period of time, such as 45 minutes straight. Then allow yourself a 15-minute break.

If 45 minutes is a stretch, start with something more manageable, such as 25 minutes, and then give yourself a five-minute break. The idea is to make a game of it — challenge yourself to work diligently on your task until the timer rings. Then allow yourself to gorge on whatever distraction you want, but only for an allotted time.

After the break, it’s back to work again until the timer rings. You’ll be amazed by how much you can get done using this method!

  1. Take on more challenging work.

If you’re having trouble focusing and are chronically distracted, it may be that your work isn’t engaging you fully. You might feel like you’re working hard all day, but it could be that your mind is fighting boredom and looking to fill the time with something more interesting.

Assess the level of unproductive busywork you’re doing. Are you having a hard time becoming engaged in the project? This could indicate that you have the capacity to take on more challenging projects. When we take on more complex work that pushes our skill and intellectual limits, we can become consumed and hyper-focused on the task. Our minds are wired to focus on anything that’s novel, pleasurable or threatening. And tackling these tasks gives us a sense of achievement.

We have no such sense of accomplishment with a task we deem menial.

  1. Weekends are for fun.

When you make focus and attention a priority during the workday, make fun and relaxation a priority on the weekend. As meeting professionals we don’t have a typical work week or weekend so that makes it even more important to find a day in your calendar each week that allows you to have more fun. This will give you the time needed to re-calibrate and rest, which will improve your attention and focus throughout the week.

With a few changes and a commitment to focus, your productivity will soar. When you choose to become the Attention Ambassador at your event, others will begin to see that Paying Attention Pays.

If we deal with distractions from the start, getting the work done becomes so much easier!



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