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Whether you work from home or at the office, there are always many things that mess with your productivity. But not to worry! If done strategically, managing interruptions and distractions at work can be not only doable but also very rewarding when it’s time to see results.
By using the strategies listed below, you can minimize distractions at your workplace, wherever it may be.
Getting into a productive mood is hard enough so when you are already in it, it’s best to stay in the flow and avoid interruptions to ensure great results.
Of course, there will be some unavoidable interruptions from time to time as we aren’t robots after all. Not everything is under our control so there is no reason to worry about things we can’t do anything about.
Instead, let’s focus on those factors that we actually can influence!
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Here are 7 useful strategies for managing interruptions and distractions that will help you stay focused at work:
1. Have a to-do list
Having a good memory is great and all but keeping everything in your head has many negative side effects.
- First, you spend a lot of valuable brain energy on remembering things – a background task that you are doing all the time while trying to do other work simultaneously (we’ll talk more about multitasking in point #6).
- Secondly, you don’t see the whole picture which makes it harder to clearly set the priorities. This may lead to you being busy all the time while still not working on those tasks that you need to do in order to get the results you want.
- Thirdly, and this may not be as noticeable as other more obvious distraction factors, you get interrupted a lot by your own unrelated thoughts. So you are honestly trying to focus on your work but can’t help thinking: “I have to call A. I have to definitely call A today. Or maybe tomorrow. When was that meeting again? Right, three o’clock. Wait, what time is it? I also need to do laundry and pick up that thing… How come it is lunch already?”.
Sounds familiar? To me, this seems very far from being in a state of effective work.
Writing down everything that you need to do for the day or in general takes a load off your shoulders so you can focus on actual work. A good planner helps tremendously to organize your workload and keep everything under control. You can also set up reminders on your phone for time-sensitive events and deadlines so you never forget anything.
Not to mention, checking things off your list at the end of the day gives you a wonderful sense of achievement and shows you how productive this day has been!
2. Prioritize and delegate
As soon as you created your to-do list for the day (you can do this in your planner, on special tear-off daily sheets, or by using simple apps like Todoist), it’s time to prioritize it. That’s when you basically create a queue of today’s tasks and for each one decide:
- How important is it? Is it something that affects your long-term goals or is it a momentary thing that doesn’t really matter if not done?
- How urgent is it? Sometimes there are things that seem important but don’t really require your immediate attention. Put them on your “later” list and start with the most critical tasks.
- Does it need to be done today? You shouldn’t get into a habit of putting things off for tomorrow all the time but it lets you find the real time-critical tasks that you absolutely can’t delay any longer.
- Does it need to be done by me? Being a responsible person sometimes gives you a feeling that you have to do everything yourself in order to get it done. However, it’s not always true. Maybe there is someone else who can do this particular task? Maybe there is someone who enjoys it more than you or even is more experienced than you in this field? Or maybe it’s something that takes time to do but is so simple everyone can do it? Don’t hesitate to delegate things so you can use your time efficiently on things only you can do!
- Does it need to be done at all? Oftentimes there are things you are postponing since last year but still haven’t found the means to do it. Ask yourself: do you still want this done? Will it benefit your life or work in any way? Or someone else’s? If all the answers are negative, that’s probably a dead weight that can be securely scratched off your list for good.
According to your answers, you can then plan your work for today and postpone or delegate everything else. A good way to do this is by using the Eisenhower matrix. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here is a simple and short explanation of the concept:
Some people find it easier to go through this process the night before. In this case, when you show up for work tomorrow, you already know your priorities and can jump straight into getting things done!
3. Look busy
This will work equally well for your family at home and your coworkers at the office.
When you look really busy, people are less likely to bother you with non-urgent matters. A colleague who is coming toward you to offer a coffee break or ask for a favor will probably back off after seeing you being up to your ears in work. A child who sees you staring at the computer screen with your serious face on may decide to play with you later. Or at least they learn to decide that with time.
To ensure a busy look, invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones which will also keep you from getting distracted by noise. The thing is, when you look already distracted, it’s a signal for everyone to approach you with their requests. Cause you are interrupted anyway so it’s not their fault.
A good pair of blue-light-blocking glasses is another thing that adds to that professional look. Besides, they take care of your eyes a lot when you are in front of your computer so you should use them even if there is no one around!
Lastly, even when you are working from home, dress up for work! Pajama pants will never give you that busy look to scare away unwanted distractions.
4. Learn to say No
Sometimes people don’t notice your busy attitude or they just don’t care if they need something from you. Whether it’s a child wanting to play together or a colleague who needs you to review their work, it’s important that you set boundaries as early as possible.
In order for you to slide through the day with minimal distraction, everyone needs to understand that you can’t be available at any moment. Teach them to respect your time and your work. Let them know when you have time for interactions in case they need you. This way you won’t be unnecessarily interrupted too much during your critical focused hours.
It’s okay to say NO to everything that is in the way of your work getting done well. And this doesn’t make you selfish! Instead, it makes you a dedicated professional who is responsible and makes sure to stay on track with all the goals and deadlines.
Being able to help everyone at any time will make you look nice in colleagues’ eyes but not that good in your boss’s or client’s eyes. When you make yourself too accessible, you may end up not having enough time to do your own tasks – which leads to bad results for your projects and productivity. And nobody will benefit from this.
So be helpful but prioritize your own work as most important!
If you have some spare time in between your tasks, feel free to address those requests and spend that time however you see fit. But don’t let anyone interrupt you thinking that their time is more important than yours!
5. Eliminate typical distractions
There are some typical distraction factors most of people struggle with, like:
- social media with infinite scrolling opportunities
- pets and little children longing for attention
- emails and phone calls that interrupt your focused state
Each of these can be addressed by trial and error as not every method works for anyone. But here are some general things you can do to avoid the most typical interruptions:
- Use Do Not Disturb mode everywhere possible. This is one of my favorite easy tricks to minimize smartphone distractions as those are among the most time-consuming things that eat up your day without you noticing. DND mode is available on every digital device these days and also can be set for specific tools like email that tend to interrupt your work too often.
- Use a time-tracker tool. Often you may not even realize how much time you spend on unrelated browsing during the day! You feel like you’ve been working hard all day, maybe just peeked at a thing or two here and there, and then suddenly the day is gone and your progress… well, far from what you’d like it to be. If this ever happens to you, you may need to keep an eye on inconspicuous distractions. The easiest way to do this is by using background tools like TimeCamp that track your device activity around the day and give you detailed reports on where your time went.
- Give a fun toy to your pet. Dog owners claim KONG toys to be very effective to keep pets busy during working hours. As opposed to usual toys that get boring too fast, KONG can be stuffed with treats and even frozen to ensure a long-lasting game!
- Organize your office. A boring environment can be harmful to your mood and kill your productivity. A messy desk can lead to a cluttered mind and constant distractions. By making your office fun and professional you set yourself up for productive days and motivate yourself to do your best!
6. Avoid multitasking
Being lazy and not willing to work is an obvious productivity killer that can be dealt with but sometimes doing too many things at once can be as harmful.
Multiple studies show that multitasking is not good for your productivity levels. In fact, so-called “heavy multitaskers” actually appear to be less effective at work, even when they aren’t multitasking. This is because they basically are kept in a constant distraction state which slows down every brain’s attempt to do something efficient.
Being busy doesn’t always mean being productive. Working on several tasks at once may lead to having none fully done at the end of the day. And even if you do provide some results, the quality may not be as good as expected. Giving your full attention to one job at a time is the best way to do it well.
- Using a good tool like the Forest app helps you focus on one particular task for a fixed period of time. I listed all the perks of using that free app here, feel free to check it out! When that task is done, take a short break, cross it off your list and pick up the next one from the prioritized list you have after using strategy #2.
- When sitting in a meeting, clear your mind from unrelated stuff and be present. Often you may come up with some good ideas or help to brainstorm with a team if you aren’t distracted by your phone. Don’t do simultaneous tasks like checking emails or finishing your other work when you are expected to participate. Not only it’s rude but you are also harming the project by not giving your input on improving it!
- Batching your tasks is a very helpful method to avoid self-interruptions. Switching between current work and checking emails every half an hour kills your productivity in half as it takes more than 20 minutes to focus back on your main task after a distraction. Choose specific time windows in your day when you can do in bulk all the necessary calls or read through a big chunk of the emails. This way you minimize back-and-forth situations and increase your daily focused time.
7. Don’t let distracting thoughts in
With all the social media and other people to blame, you may not notice how much your own thoughts can lead to work interruptions! Being in a bad mood always affects productivity, and having too much on your mind is the worst way of getting distracted as you can’t really track it.
To minimize self-interruptions, monitor your mood and consciously switch your focus whenever you catch your thoughts sliding away from the task.
Start your day with a positive mindset. Combine a few productivity affirmations with millionaire mindset affirmations and say them in the morning to set yourself up for another successful day! If you are new to the concept, here are some super easy instructions on how to use affirmations and how to combine them to support your personal and business goals. If you are more advanced, you can write your own affirmations by using these simple rules to make sure they work!
Keep a notebook handy. Whenever you find yourself thinking about something unrelated, like what a good gift for your boss might be, write it down and immediately switch your attention back to work! I prefer digital tools like Evernote to hold my notes but you can use a simple notebook if that’s more convenient for you.
Final words on managing interruptions and distractions at work
Here you have my seven strategies for managing interruptions at the workplace. Use them all to stay focused longer and ensure a productive day with minimum distractions!
Being good with time management is critical for being effective at work, especially when you work from home and nobody else controls your time.
You are responsible for your productivity! Don’t blame other factors for distracting you and messing with your workflow. Instead, organize your processes in a way that helps you avoid most of the unwanted interruptions. Stick to your goals, own your time, and don’t let anyone or anything waste it!
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