Picture this: You're sitting at your desk on a hot afternoon, rubbing your sore neck muscles, wishing you'd remembered to call the air conditioner technician. Your stomach growls as you check the clock on your computer monitor to see how much time remains in your workday. But as you glance at the screen, your coworker's text message flashes, your phone rings, and your email dings, all at once.
Suddenly, you regret not taking that lunch break.
If the familiarity of this scenario makes your heart race and palms sweat, you're not alone.
In today's technology-driven world, this is the reality of the workday for many of us. Not only do we face physical distractions, like hunger and discomfort, but we also have to contend with mental distractions, like social media, phone calls, and emails.
It may seem impossible to end all distractions at work, but there are a few things you can do. Here's how interruptions affect your productivity and wellness and how to eliminate distractions at work.
Are Our Attention Spans Dwindling?
In today's world, distractions are everywhere. Everything is fast these days, from food to cars to communication. It's possible to remain connected around the clock thanks to technology, but that speed and connectivity come at a cost.
Although the shorter-than-a-goldfish myth was debunked, an international team of scientists has uncovered evidence that our attention spans are indeed decreasing. Researchers analyzed years of data from social media to movie tickets. Patterns revealed that our attention resources are rapidly depleting as more popular content is created and consumed.
The Top Distractions in the Workplace
With our minds so full of information, it's no wonder we're struggling to focus. And when we enter our workday, we add more to the mix.
- Chatty coworkers (80%)
- Workspace noise (70%)
- Overwhelming changes to work (61%)
- Meetings (60%)
- Social media (58%)
From noisy chatter to impromptu meetings and everything in between, it’s clear that the workplace is full of distractions that can clutter our thoughts.These distractions can have a significant impact on our productivity. In the same Udemy study, 54% of employees reported that distractions reduced their performance, and 50% said they were significantly less productive.
The Consequences of Distraction
Distractions at work are more than just frustrating. Every time you switch your attention from one thing to another, you lose a bit of focus. Jumping from task to task spreads your attention even thinner.
As you keep checking email or multitasking around interruptions, you accumulate a little more attention residue that impairs your cognition and performance. As a result, you aren't able to think deeply or do your best work.
But it doesn't end there. Distractions at work can have several adverse effects:
- Productivity loss: The cost of getting interrupted during focus work is high. When we get distracted by something else, it takes a significant amount of time to return to our original focus. Research from the University of California Irvine found it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track after an interruption. That time adds up — several interruptions throughout the day can quickly result in 2-3 hours of lost productivity.
- Decreased job satisfaction and career setbacks: Distractions can also harm your job and career outlook. In the Udemy survey we mentioned above, 34% of respondents said they liked their jobs less when constantly interrupted, and 22% of Millennials and Gen Z said distractions prevented them from reaching their full potential.
- Stress and anxiety: Research shows that distraction can also lead to stress and anxiety and negatively affect our performance at work. The University of California Irvine study noted that it only takes 20 minutes of interruptions for people to report significant increases in frustration, stress, workload, and mental effort.
Up until a certain point, interruptions are tolerable — we just compensate by speeding up our workflow. But, it's not long before distractions become problematic.
How to Eliminate Distractions and Take Control of Your Workday
To maintain productivity, learning how to eliminate distractions at work is essential. In a distraction-free environment, your ability to focus increases, and you can finish your tasks in a shorter time frame. To stay productive and reduce distractions at work, try these tips.
1. Optimize Your Workspace
Start by eliminating distractions in your workspace. Organization, noise levels, and comfort are key factors when designing an optimal setup, whether you’re working in the office or working from home. Keeping your area neat can reduce stress, allowing you to work more efficiently and feel more in control. Reducing noise levels can lower distractions from nearby coworkers or family members, while an ergonomic workspace can ease discomfort.
What Science Says: Physical work environments influence employee performance and wellbeing, according to research. Study findings suggest various factors cause workspace distractions, including room temperature, size, noise level, wall colors, furniture adjustability, and cleanliness. Conversely, a supportive physical environment contributes to cognitive performance and work satisfaction.
Putting It Into Action: Reducing distractions in your workspace requires a little planning. Think about the potential distractions you could face and design your space to offset them. For example, if you run hot, ensure the room has a fan or air conditioner (and avoid the scenario at the beginning of this article). If you're prone to backaches, get an ergonomic chair.
2. Set Boundaries — and Enforce Them
If your distractions come from other people, you must set some limits. This means communicating your needs to others and then enforcing them. Your work boundaries don't have to be inflexible, but placing them and sticking to them as much as possible is essential.
What Science Says: Establishing a dedicated workspace for work activities that isn't used for any other purpose is associated with higher productivity, according to research. "It is recommended to have a dedicated workspace to create physical boundaries, help workers establish a productive work atmosphere, and signal to other household members that they do not want to be distracted," University of Southern California scientists report.
Putting It Into Action: Establishing boundaries and taking control of your time requires communicating your needs to others — whether that's your family, friends, or coworkers. If you have an office job, let your coworkers know when you're available to chat and when you need to focus. Post a Do Not Disturb sign, shut your door, or wear headphones. Establish and stick to regular office hours if you work from home, so your family knows the periods of time when you are busy or unavailable.
3. Check Your Email Less Often
We've all been there. We're in the middle of a project when we get an email notification. Despite ourselves, we can't help but take a peek. And once we do, it's hard to resist replying or getting sucked into our inbox.
What Science Says: Employees spend an average of 90 minutes per day recovering from email interruptions, according to a Michigan State University study. That's seven and a half hours each week of lost productivity. What's more, on days when email demands were reported as high, managers engaged in fewer effective leadership behaviors, and employee performance was compromised.
Putting It Into Action: "Set aside specific times to check email," suggests management professor Russell Johnson, who conducted the study. To reduce email distractions, try checking your inbox only a few times a day. Block out a time at the beginning and end of each day, or whatever works best for your schedule.
If you can, turn off notifications and close your smartphone app outside those times so you're not tempted to check whenever a new message comes in. Reducing access to email will lower distractions and the lingering attention residue of the transition back to work.
4. Take Breaks
Pushing through a long list of tasks can be tempting, but taking frequent breaks can actually increase your productivity. When you take a break from work, your mind can rest and recover, making it easier to concentrate and focus when you return. Breaks also allow you to move your body, get fresh air, and take a respite from work.
The break doesn't have to be lengthy — recent research suggests that shorter "microbreaks" may be more effective.
What Science Says: "A microbreak is, by definition, short," says Sophia Cho, assistant psychology professor and co-author of the study. "But a five-minute break can be golden if you take it at the right time ... microbreaks help you manage your energy resources over the course of the day." This is especially beneficial to help you recover after you've been interrupted.
Putting It Into Action: To get the most out of your breaks, make sure you're taking them at strategic times. Rize's reports can help you see when you're being most productive and when you're getting distracted more often. Schedule your breaks at times you notice your productivity begins to decline. A microbreak can be as simple as a stretch or as active as an outdoor walk. Be sure to step away from your work and give your eyes a rest from any screens.
5. Set Limits on Social Media and Other Distracting Sites
You're not alone if you get sucked into a black hole of social media scrolling. Employees spend around two and a half hours daily on digital content unrelated to work. While some social media use at work might be necessary depending on your job, it's essential to set limits, so you don't become distracted.
What Science Says: A recent study from the University of Bath found that self-imposed limits on social media use can improve mental health. Study results revealed that taking just one week away from social media significantly reduced depression and anxiety and increased overall wellbeing. Symptoms such as impaired memory and poor concentration improved, resulting in a greater ability to focus.
Putting It Into Action: Control your screen time by setting restrictions on your device or using a focus app. By blocking sites and apps you know are distracting, you can avoid mindlessly browsing social media or other websites when you should be working. Identify your most distracting moments throughout the day using Rize's automated time tracking. Productivity reports will also show you which apps are diverting your attention so that you can better limit your distractions.
6. Work Outside — or at Least Get Some Natural Light
If the afternoon slump has hit and you're struggling with your mind wandering, your workspace lighting might be to blame. Dim lighting can depress your mood, increase eye strain and headaches, and even increase your blood pressure, among other distractors. Optimizing your workspace to include natural light — or better yet, light plus a nature view — can reduce these distracting discomforts.
What Science Says: "Optimizing the amount of natural light in an office significantly improves health and wellness among workers, leading to gains in productivity," said Cornell University Professor Dr. Alan Hedge. His research study on office environments and productivity revealed many benefits of natural light exposure:
- 84% decrease in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision
- 10% reduction in drowsiness
- 2% increase in productivity
- 80% higher daylight satisfaction
Also, studies show experiencing nature rejuvenates the mind, reducing mental fatigue from work and improving performance.
Putting It Into Action: Ideally, your workspace should be situated near a window looking out onto a green area. Besides the boost of natural light, you'll also benefit from the views of nature. If you can't make that happen, take a short stroll outside during your break or lunchtime. Natural light and fresh air will not only help you step away from distractions and reset your productivity, but they'll also benefit your mental and physical health.
Discover How to Eliminate Distractions and Improve Your Productivity
Reducing distractions in the workplace can be challenging, but it's important to create an environment that supports focus and concentration. You can reduce distractions and improve your productivity and overall wellbeing with just a few simple changes.
Take control of your focus and learn how to eliminate distractions with Rize. Rize is a productivity app that helps you manage time, limit distractions, and boost productivity. Automatic time tracking means you'll always know how you're spending your time, and productivity reports will show you which apps distract you from work. Try Rize free for 14 days and see how your productivity improves.