HR Management & Compliance

How to Limit Distractions at Work

Distractions not only cause us to take longer to complete tasks but also decrease our quality of work once it’s completed. However, there are ways we can help mitigate and minimize these distractions, and The New York Times best-selling author Joseph Grenny suggests five.


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1. Monitor Emotions

Grenny recalls an experiment he conducted with college students during which he asked them to journal their interruptions. He found that “over 90% of task switches were a response to feelings of anxiety, boredom, or loneliness.”

“Becoming more aware of the motives behind your response to seductive interruptions will help you develop healthier strategies for managing your feelings—and for resisting that email or phone alert,” says Grenny.

2. Take the Easy Wins

Because unconscious anxiety is a big cause of distractions, Grenny suggests addressing some high-anxiety, low-complexity tasks to knock them off the list. Anything that helps shorten a to-do list can help ease anxiety and hopefully reduce distractions.

3. Structure Solitude

Designate times when you refuse interruptions, which could mean coming in early before others arrive, staying late, working over lunch, or even blocking off time every few days when you protect your solitude. Shut your door, don’t check e-mail, and don’t answer the phone—just focus on the task at hand.

4. Build Your Attention Muscle

“Attention is a muscle, and the appeal of interruptions is evidence of atrophy or underdevelopment,” says Grenny. “But the stronger the muscle grows, the longer you can focus on a task.”

5. Take a Problem on a Walk

Taking a walk to get out of the hectic office environment is another way to build in some solitude to concentrate and focus on issues or problems that have been nagging you.

The workplace can be hectic and requires us to juggle multiple tasks at once, and distractions have real business impacts when it comes to how they affect our efficiency and quality of work. But just because we need to be engaged in multiple tasks doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to dedicate focused attention to individual activities from time to time. The focus will pay off in terms of greater productivity and peace of mind.