The Most Common Distractions At Work and How To Manage Them

By Kristīne Kalvāne

December 16, 2019   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

distractions at work

“Hey, do you have a minute?”

This is a question you usually hear before your concentration on a task leaves the building.

In a time when there are a lot of things trying to catch our attention, we need to have the strength and motivation to not lose our concentration several times per hour.
Then again, we can’t be 100% productive all day long. That’s why we need to be aware of what makes us lose our focus.

But what are the top distractions at work? We carried out a survey with the help of time tracking app DeskTime to find out what disturbs people the most while they’re at work and 1,334 office workers around the world from various industries responded.

And the top office distraction is (drumroll, please) – interruptions! Other popular answers were:

  • Office noise (discussions, chatter, typing, sneezes, etc.)
  • The Internet
  • Phone and desktop notifications (smartphone / desktop)
  • Personal issues
  • Wrong temperature (too hot / too cold)

The respondents also listed email, bad lighting, cluttered desk and/or disorganized office, meetings, office background music, and other reasons as the most diverting ones.

The truth behind distractions at work

work distractions

As it happens, there is some sort of cycle that people experience throughout the day. We can work uninterrupted for 11 minutes, get distracted, and then recover for 23 minutes.

So, if we use basic math, we’ll have this:

In an 8-hour workday, a person is actually productive for about 2.5 hours. And let’s just say – in most cases, it’s not a lot.

These calculations can be backed up by research claiming that questions from colleagues, walk-ups, or ASAP tasks can take up even 5 hours of your working day. One of the respondents added:

Random questions coming from teammates that require an immediate response is distracting. When that happens too often, it adds up to unproductive time spent trying to remember “what was I about to do now”.

Being interrupted by colleagues and office noises is a consequence of the modern open-plan offices which are popular, however, proven to be distracting.

In addition, personal issues such as family problems or relationship issues including attraction to co-workers are listed as one of the top 6 reasons why people are unable to concentrate at work. Office workers find it difficult to separate personal problems from work and vice versa.

Finally, the survey results also show that environmental factors can also play a significant role when it comes to being sidetracked at work. Altogether, 15.1% of respondents listed bad lighting, wrong office temperature, disorganization, and ambient music/noise as the reasons why they can’t focus at work.

The consequences of distractions are indisputable. If you’re being productive only 2.5 hours of your 8-hour long workday, we have a feeling that neither you nor your boss is happy about that. Therefore, distractions become a problem.

And the facts are out there

  • 3 out of 4 workers admit that they feel distracted when they’re at work
  • Distracted employees can be more unhappy as they’re more likely to like their job less than other people.
  • A constant loss of attention can increase the possibility of making a mistake. Why?
  • Because as you’re aware that you’re losing time, you may try to manage your tasks quicker to compensate the time you’ve lost, which increases the chance of an error.

So, how come we are allowing ourselves into interruptions? It turns out that it’s not entirely our own fault.

Why can’t we focus?

distraction at work

How long, in your opinion, is the human attention span on average? If you think that it’s longer than 10 seconds, boy, you’re wrong.

We live in an age where a goldfish can focus on one thing for a longer time than humans can. In addition, distractions can occur in separate environments – internally (affected by emotions) and externally (affected by environment).

As we can see, our research results show that external factors are dominating. Chatty co-workers, bad lighting or temperature that turns your office in the tundra are just some of the reasons why we can’t be 100% productive.

Nevertheless, it’s only natural that we respond to irritations. But to do better, we have to learn some self-control to overcome the temptation of losing our attention.

How to overcome distractions at work

Consider this as an action plan, a mantra or your daily productivity’s to-do list. If you’re being distracted:

  • Identify the cause. Is it internal or external?
  • Think about why it bugs you and how can it be avoided or resolved.
  • Find solutions.

In other words, if what you need to get your attention back is a heater, noise-canceling headphones, website blocker or a playlist that features all your favorite “you can do this” songs, then go for it. As long as it works and gets you back into the hustle and being the boss of your tasks.

Final words

Losing focus is a natural thing. And generally, that shouldn’t worry you as long as it’s not messing up your day at work or goals that you’ve set.

Therefore, the best we can do is to be aware of how and where our attention flutters. In addition, we need to learn some skills to catch ourselves before we go to the land called “Unproductiveness”.

If we can master all of that, hopefully, we will be happier, avoid making mistakes, and put on our noise-canceling headphones when our co-workers start to chat, sneeze uncontrollably or ask any focus-stealing questions.

See Also: One Simple Trick to Get Rid of the #1 Workplace Productivity Killer

Kristīne Kalvāne

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