by Sharon Florentine

How to avoid workplace distractions

Aug 20, 2015
CareersPersonal Software

One of the biggest deterrents to workplace productivity is constant interruption. But what's causing these disruptions and how can you beat them? Experts weigh in on the most common workplace distractions and how to overcome them.

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Top 5 workplace distractions

The average worker, according to research from Weekdone, gets interrupted every three minutes. Getting back in the right frame of mind and on task can take up to 23 minutes. These types of interruptions costs businesses around $10,375 in lost productivity per person per year.

Here are the top five biggest workplace distractions and advice on how to beat them.

Smartphones/Internet/Social media

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Combine the Internet, social media and smartphones with unlimited access to all three, and you can see that there are a myriad of ways to get distracted in the workplace. The easiest way to avoid this pitfall is to simply to turn your phone off. Another option is to set boundaries for yourself; only check your phone and social media during breaks and lunchtime, and set an alarm to limit how much time you’re using it.

Though many companies have policies in place that ban the use of personal smartphones and even block access to social media and non-work-related sites, experts don’t necessarily recommend this approach because it can actually backfire by hurting morale and driving away elite talent).



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One of the greatest productivity tools ever created can easily turn into one of the greatest productivity killers if it’s not managed correctly. Try to avoid answering email as soon as it hits your inbox; instead, set aside a few designated times during the day to read and respond to messages. And don’t make email your first priority as soon as you log in, according to, especially if you need to make progress on other tasks quickly.



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“Meetings: the practical alternative to work,” as the saying goes. No self-respecting business wants to advertise that it’s inefficient, unfocused, lacks a clear direction or purpose or that they regularly waste tens of thousands of dollars for no tangible reason. And yet, that’s exactly what happens every day in meetings. “Meetings rarely result in actionable work. Workers spend on average six to seven hours per week in meetings and are then forced to do the real work they were hired to do on the margins of their day,” says Carson Tate, the founder and principal of Working Simply, a management consultancy, and the author of “Work Simply.”

When your workforce spends the majority of its time in meetings, it’s not producing anything — except more meetings and that can become the entire culture of your business.

Take concrete steps to ensure the right people are attending meetings, and that tangible action is taken after a meeting to avoid wasting time, energy and money.

Open-door policies

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While in theory an “anything you need, anytime you need it” policy sounds great, in practice, it’s a recipe for chaos and distraction, especially for managers, says Ed Brown, efficiency and workflow consultant, president, co-chairman and founder of Cohen Brown Management Group and author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had. “Yes, you need to be there for those who need you, especially as a manager, but you also have to recognize that your time and energy are important. How can you get anything done with all the distractions? You must analyze and strike a balance between offering support and cutting into your precious work time. An easy way to do this is simply to set appointments with your staff instead of encouraging them to walk in whenever they’d like,” says Brown.


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Open-plan workspaces can contribute to lost productivity and distractions if you’re not well-equipped to mitigating them. “You’re just a thin cubicle wall away from someone else. You know when they’re eating lunch — and what they’re eating. You hear them on the phone, when they’re listening to music, even their typing can be distracting,” Brown says.

Invest in a set of noise-canceling headphones. Book a private conference room for an hour or so. Or ask your manager if you can work from home a day or two a week to boost your productivity. And don’t be afraid to speak up, adds Brown. Politely asking your neighbor to keep the noise down in the name of productivity and working together to come up with solutions for both of you can go a long way.