Distracted? 5 Ways to Get Back on Track Now

July 30th, 2014 | Articles, Job Search | No Comments »

Distractions at Work 2

Some days, it’s all too easy to get sucked into the siren song of office distractions. All it takes is one 2.8 second long distraction and the number of mistakes you make at work doubles. On top of that, it takes up to 23 minutes to rebound from even a brief distraction. Hours can slip between your fingers before you even realize it.

So, how do you take control and eliminate distractions?

Know Thy Enemy, Know Thyself

First, it helps to know why our brains get so easily distracted. Distraction is almost hardwired into our DNA. In a more primal world, highly attuned awareness was a matter of survival: it helped humans discern predators and spot lifesaving plants from toxic alternatives.

Daydreaming, the close kin of distraction, can even lead to mental breakthroughs in the right context. The limber, attentive nature of our brains helps us to jump through the wormhole and achieve solutions that would have otherwise been light years away.

It’s just when we let our brains roam without a tether that it becomes a serious problem.

What Distracts Us the Most?

What distracts us most? A Careerbuilder survey asked 2,138 employers which distractions ruin productivity most and found some pretty common culprits. 50% said that the cell phone buzzing in your pocket, on your desk, and in your purse regularly disrupts productivity. The mixture of calls, texts, and media alerts offers a constant snare for your attention.

Many aspects of the modern office can be pretty distracting, too. Digital technology, though boosting productivity in some ways, counters those very advantages. The average worker is only productive for 5 hours out of an 8 hour work day. Employers definitely notice that paradox: 39% saw non-work related web surfing, 38% saw personal social media usage, and 23% saw personal emails taking up time.

Your coworkers aren’t any better at keeping you distraction-free either. Employers witnessed distractions pop up in the following ways: 42% of employers reported regular gossip being a problem, 27% reported noisy coworkers keeping others off task, and 23% saw rambling meetings ruining momentum.

That’s a lot of noise vying for your attention. Just shy of spending your work hours in a sensory deprivation chamber, what can you do to combat distractions?

5 Ways to Cut through Distractions

There’s no universal remedy for warding off all distractions, but there are several steps that everyone can easily take.

Ask Why

1.) Ask yourself, “How do I get distracted at work?” – Are you a social butterfly that gets pulled into conversation? Do you easily trip down the rabbit hole of click bait articles? Don’t rely on guesswork for your answer. Time management software, both free and paid, can gauge how you spend your time. Toggl, Rescue Time, and others offer clean interfaces to input daily habits, track total time, and analyze your biggest time wasters.

Ear Plugs2

2.) Eliminate temptation – Okay, so you know your distractions. It’s time to cut it off at the source. Exerting your finite willpower over distractions can be difficult and unnecessary. Software programs exist that can block out online distractions entirely. That way, you take distraction as an option off the table completely.

Quiet Office

3.) Find your right environment – Your full focus requires precarious balance. Sounds, sights, and even the wrong temperature can distract you from the task at hand. Many seem outside of your control, but small steps can be powerful. In a noisy office, earplugs work surprising well and still allow some level of hearing. An isolated nook eliminates visual distractions. And temperature? You don’t want to get into a thermostat war, but bringing a portable heater or fan to the office creates your own comfortable climate.

Short Bursts

4.) Work in short bursts – When a project seems to drag on, it’s easy to latch onto any available distraction. Your brain needs a break (or at least a change of scenery). The Pomodoro technique is one way to keep your mind from workday ennui. At its basic level, you work in 25 minute bursts, learning to work efficiently and shutting everything else out in the process. It’s much easier to delay gratification for 25 minutes stretches before moving on to the next task.

Office Work Out

5.) Get your blood pumping – A tired and unfocused brain is prone to distraction. John J. Ratey, MD and author of A User’s Guide to the Brain says in a WebMD article that, “exercise is like taking […] a little Ritalin at just the right moment.” It can bring about mental acuity, even as your brain tires and your overall energy wanes at the end of the day.

Office distractions don’t have to control you. With a few steps, you can pull up most disruptive elements by the root.

by James Walsh

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