Managing Your Work Environment and Eliminating Distractions

We’re always ‘connected’ to the world outside our little home office space.

Whether it is colleagues, customers, bosses or friends, the family member requesting for help with some household chores or a crying child seeking our attention, it seems hard to be able to find time to work uninterrupted.

But are these distractions simply irritants that don’t affect us much?

What research on Distraction reveals?

The scientific data on the effect of those many pings, rings, buzzes, requests and the myriad other distractions that we are subjected to during our day is out.

Research shows that it takes an individual up to 23 minutes to refocus fully on a mentally challenging task that they were performing before the distraction.

Another study found that frequent interruptions lead to higher feelings of stress and frustration, double the error rates and degrade the overall quality of people’s work output.

Clearly, distractions are not good for us!

But why do we give in to distractions during our work?

Here are two reasons why:

a. It’s a – bad- feature of the modern-day work culture

We are expected to be ‘always connected, always available’ for clients, colleagues and bosses to reach us.

But as research has shown, distractions severely hamper work output. Unfortunately, the modern-day work culture does not seem to care much about this.

b. We lack the right distraction management practices

We lack the self-discipline required to stay focused; but more importantly, we haven’t imbibed the practices required to prevent distractions from ruining our day

Let’s face it: calls, emails and texts from work colleagues or clients are not our only distractions. We simply lack the discipline to avoid the distractions caused by social media alerts, browsing the internet for pleasure, calls from friends and other pleasurable distractions.

Worse still, we haven’t developed the practices that can help us avoid giving in to these idle distractions that provide temporary pleasure but lead to long-term stress and frustration.

Both the factors that we’ve just shared prevent you from producing your best at work. You must do your best to manage these.

Here then are

Five inputs to help you manage distractions when working remotely

a. Have a dedicated work area (if you can)

If you can, please set aside a room or at least a desk someplace which you can use to work from home.

No worries though, if you are not someone blessed with space that you can carve out to work from home. Follow the next few steps

b. Let your brain know that it’s work time

Create a routine that signals to your brain that you are now in work mode. Perhaps you can have a ritual that includes dressing up for work, clearing your desk, making a list of to-do tasks and get cracking with work. Do this every day, and your brain will soon realise that this ritual means getting into work mode.

c. Manage your work environment

Your immediate surroundings, especially your work desk, must be as clean as can be. At least de-clutter your work desk, unless you are the kind that is okay with a messy desk.

Mention to your family how much of uninterrupted work time you require now, and when you might be available to help with the home. If you have a door to your workspace, then close it. Doing so signals to your family or mates that you are not to be disturbed now.

d. Avoid distractions and interruptions

Now, this won’t work if are in a job that requires you to be continuously connected with customers (say sales or customer service), colleagues (any job that requires coordinating on a minute-by-minute basis) or your manager, or are working on a task that requires collaboration as it is being performed.

However, if you are performing any task that is cognitively demanding, then speak with your manager and colleagues before you start that task.

Inform them about how much uninterrupted time you require for your task, when you will be available to speak with next, and that all your notifications – phone and email – will be off for that duration of time.

Provide them with what they require before you get started with work so that their work does not suffer, and neither does yours.

Then, turn off all notifications on your phone and laptop and get started with work. If possible, turn off the internet too. You will be less tempted to browse the internet for the latest cute cat videos or cricket scores.

e. Plan – and take – your breaks

Every ninety minutes or so – a cycle that scientists call our Ultradian Rhythm – as we work on mentally demanding tasks, the glucose levels in our brain deplete. Glucose depletion makes it harder for us to concentrate on tasks. So, plan a ten to fifteen-minute break every ninety minutes, when you completely disconnect from work. Keep an alarm that will remind you that it is time to get back to work, and when you do so, and you require to work on another cognitively demanding task, follow steps C and D mentioned earlier.

In Conclusion

Distractions decrease our productivity. These five practices will help us overcome distractions:

  1. Have a dedicated work area (if you can)
  2. Let your brain know that it’s work time
  3. Manage your work environment
  4. Avoid distractions and interruptions
  5. Plan – and take – your breaks

Why don’t you spend some time now identifying how you will implement this lesson?

Remember, always being ‘connected’ does not help.

Done taking this lesson? Please take the accompanying quiz.

Happy quizzing!




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