Email is just one of many distractions that can affect your productivity.
How often are you distracted at work?
It's a question that's almost laughable, right? Most of us are distracted several times, if not dozens of times, every day.
We get emergency emails and phone calls. We take breaks to browse the Internet. Co-workers walk into our office for a quick chat, or send us amusing instant messages.
It doesn't matter where you work or what you do, you probably deal with distractions on a daily basis. And these distractions are costly: a 2007 study by Basex estimated that distractions cost U.S. businesses $588 billion per year, and this high cost is likely repeated in organizations around the world.
What's more (and depending on the complexity of our work), regaining concentration after a distraction can take quite a few minutes. If we're distracted 10 times a day, multiply the time lost by 10, and it's easy to see why we sometimes don't get much quality work done.
Learning how to minimize distractions can dramatically increase your productivity and effectiveness, as well as reduce your stress. Without distractions, you can get into flow , produce high-quality work, and achieve much more during the day.
In this article, we'll discuss the most common distractions we face at work, and we'll look at strategies for minimizing or eliminating them.
While email is incredibly useful, it's also one of the biggest work distractions we face. Many of us could spend entire days simply reading and responding to emails.
Keep your email program closed – When you're not using your email program, close it entirely – or at least turn off the visual or audible alerts that distract you. This eliminates the temptation to check it constantly.
Most email programs will also allow you to fetch new email manually with a "send/receive" button, or will allow you to set it to get new email automatically at certain times of the day (every three hours, for example).
See our article on Managing Email Effectively for more strategies on minimizing the distractions caused by email. Our article Overcoming Information Overload , and our Expert Interview on Managing Email with Mike Song, may also be helpful.
A disorganized desk or office can be very distracting. When your work space or work life is disorganized, it can be difficult to think and plan clearly.
Getting organized is a topic that could easily fill books, and it does! We have several good resources here at Mind Tools.
Our articles How to Be Organized , Actions Programs , The Art of Filing , and The 5S System will help you to organize your office and work life, so you can be more productive – and less distracted – during the day.
Instant messaging can be useful, but many times it's also a way for co-workers to interrupt you without having to get up and walk into your office.
If you use instant messaging (it's very powerful if used in a disciplined way), get into the habit of using it for small, quick queries. It's often better to use email or the phone for more complex ones.
Also, if you find yourself distracted by IM, consider setting specific times during the day for being "online." Then, when you don't want to be contacted, leave it off or set your status to "busy." If people need to contact you, make sure they know your "hours" for IM.
The ring of the phone has become almost like Pavlov's bell for some people – we think we must answer it, even if we're concentrating on something important.
Minimize phone call distractions by turning off your phone during your peak work hours. Or, let your team know that you won't take non-essential calls between specific times, such as from noon to 2 p.m.
Alternatively, get people into the habit of using IM to check with co-workers that they are OK to take a call. If co-workers are deep in concentration, they can ask to "talk in 10 minutes" without losing the thread of their work.
Browsing the web can take up enormous amounts of time from our day, and when we start looking on the Internet for one thing, it's easy to get lost for 20 minutes or more.
Close your Internet browser – Eliminate Internet distractions by keeping your browser closed when you're not using it. If you repeatedly check personal email, or go on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, then log out of your account. If you're forced to take those few extra seconds to log in each time, it may remind you that you're not focusing on work.
However, bear in mind that tools like Twitter are increasingly useful for staying in touch with events in your industry. Just make sure that you only check it at set times of the day – for instance, before lunch and at the end of the day.)
Co-workers often create the greatest distractions.
Our article Managing Interruptions offers further help on dealing with interruptions by co-workers.
Windows, a busy highway, or loud co-workers may all contribute to a distracting work environment.
Coming to work well rested is vital to having a productive day.
We all face distractions on a daily basis. Distractions not only lower our productivity, they also increase our stress.
You probably already know what distracts you the most – phone calls, emails, instant messages, Internet browsing, interrupting co-workers, and so on. Strategies like scheduling email checks, turning off your phone, and leaving the office for a quieter environment may eliminate distractions so that you get more done.
Try several strategies to find the ones that work, and then stick to them!
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