28 Dec 2020, 20:03

The Biggest Workplace Distractions and How To Fix Them

Whether it's chatty co-workers, clutter or an endless barrage of emails, workplace distractions are a pain in the neck and a seemingly unavoidable fact of working life. For many tasks, you need to be 100% focused, but with every interruption, your efficiency levels plummet, which can cause mistakes.

If you ever have those days where you just can't seem to get anything done despite how busy you seem, this article is for you. We're going to look at some of the most common workplace interruptions and how you can banish them for good.

Noise Annoys 

Ever since its invention, the open-plan office has been an aural nightmare, a full-blown assault on the ears. From noisy colleagues, loud snacking and novelty ringtones to cupboard doors opening and closing, the sound of the air conditioning system and music playing, background noise is inevitable. 

Fix:  When it all becomes too distracting, invest in noise-cancelling headphones. If your colleagues are creating a lot of noise they may not be aware they're distracting you. Have a polite conversation about how their decibel-raising chatter affects your ability to work. 

Co-Workers Dropping By

Like background noise, interruptions from co-workers are unavoidable. Just as you're getting in the zone on a project, Ted pops over for a chat about the weekend. According to research from the University of California, Irvine, workers spend 11 minutes on average focusing on a project before being interrupted. The same study found it takes them 25 minutes to fully get back on track after an interruption. 

Fix: If you have an office, keep the door closed and hang a "do not disturb" sign. If you work in an open office space, wear a set of headphones, even if you're not listening to anything. Your co-workers don't know that. You could also have a polite go-to phrase for when you see someone bounding towards you. For example, "I'm in the middle of something right now. Can I check back with you later?"

Mountains of Clutter

A messy workspace is a giant productivity killer. A few stray boxes and bits of paper in your cubicle may not seem a lot at first, but they very quickly mount up. When something catches your eye while working, like loose files or an old coffee cup, it takes away your focus. If you’re spending ages looking for important items and you feel like you’re squashing into a tube carriage when sitting at your desk, you have too much stuff. 

 Fix: To create a stress-free, clutter-free space, get rid of items that are no longer needed and organise papers into appropriate files or, even better, in the cloud. Make tidying your workplace a short ritual before you clock off for the evening. That way, you’ll start each day feeling focused and productive.

Email Consumption

Your email inbox is one of the most inefficient workplace tools because it is a serious distraction that lowers productivity. When emails land in your inbox, you have two options. Stop what you’re doing and read them, or stay focused on the task at hand and look at the messages later. When you shift your attention from one task to another, such as checking emails, you lose your focus. If you keep doing this throughout the day, how can you get any work done?

 Fix: Set aside a specific amount of uninterrupted time to complete a task during which you commit to not looking at your emails. You could also turn off your email alerts or work offline.

 Hunger Pangs

A gurgling, rumbling, empty stomach makes it nearly impossible to focus and get anything done. Ultimately, to satisfy their cravings, workers go off in search of vending machines or a snack bar, which wastes a lot of time.

Fix: Bring a few healthy snacks with you, place them on your desk or in a drawer and nibble when hunger strikes.

Endless Meetings

Meetings are one of the biggest time sucks, forcing people to leave their desks and projects to sit in a room for an hour or two, even if they don’t have to be there. Meetings are often unproductive with a lot of irrelevant chat.

Fix: Before scheduling a meeting, think hard about whether it’s necessary. Would communication with your team by email be a better option? If you want everyone to meet, ensure you have a clear agenda and set a time limit.


The next time interruptions threaten your progress and to-do lists, practice these strategies to nip them in the bud.