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Cover image for Stop the brain drain. How to overcome distractions at work.

Stop the brain drain. How to overcome distractions at work.

rizwanjavaid profile image Rizwan⚡️ Originally published at rizwanjavaid.com ・4 min read

Did you know that the average worker is only productive for 3 hours a day?

As technology improves and more options in communication become available, we are getting more distracted, and our attention spans are getting shorter. Distractions are all around us. Meetings, small-talk, interruptions, emails, notifications, chat, and smartphones are distractions that are all stealing our attention and keeping us from doing our best work.

In a recent study conducted by Udemy, distractions at work were called out as morale killers at work because of the emotional toll they take on individuals.

We all understand the joys of our always-wired world—the connections, the validations, the laughs … the info. … But we are only beginning to get our minds around the costs.
Andrew Sullivan

Common distractions at the workplace and how to overcome them

Meetings: Does this meeting need to be an hour-long?


Yes, meetings that are well-planned play a crucial part in keeping projects running smoothly, however, there are cases where people get meeting-happy and want to meet unnecessarily when an email or a chat would have been better. Then there are those meetings which are much longer than they need to be. The discussion scheduled for an hour could've taken 30 minutes by focusing on the agenda and not wasting time during meetings on side conversations and going off on tangents. Parkinson's Law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. We can apply this adage to meetings as well. By scheduling longer meetings, discussions will multiply to fill the time available, so by intentionally scheduling shorter 30-minute meetings; the conversations can stay focused and take less time out of everybody's day.

Interruptions: Got a second?


A "Got a second?" disruption is never a second and is a significant disruptor of focus. It's great to help out, and yes, there are real fires that need to be put out, but your heads-down-time is where the magic happens, so guard it as something sacred. Try to block out time on your calendar or let your coworkers who stop by unannounced know your availability by using an Available/Unavailable sign. Busylight by Kuando is an excellent option to signal your availability to everyone.

Emails: A significant case of FOMO


Always having your inbox visible or hearing the ping of a new email arrive is an invitation to distraction; this also adds to your fear of missing out. To address this distraction, you can begin by batching your email checking at specific times of the day. You could start by checking emails four times a day, and as you become more comfortable, try reducing the number of times you check your email to find your sweet spot. Stick to your schedule and see how much time you save during the day.

Chat: So many options!

WorkPlace, Slack, Teams, Messenger, WhatsApp are just a few of the apps we use to communicate, and it's not uncommon for people to use many of them in a single day. There are a few things you can try here. First, you can change the notifications for these apps, so they only notify you when someone has sent you a message directly or @ mentions you. This tweak will reduce a lot of the noise that comes out of these apps. Secondly, try batching your chat sessions and closing the apps during your heads-down time. Thirdly, you can use an all-in-one app such as Franz to manage all your chat apps. Chat is essential to making connections with our coworkers, especially those who work remotely, but the key is to manage your time wisely so you can pay attention to the work that truly matters.

Smartphones: A magnetic force

We need our phones to communicate and manage our lives. Texting, checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and emailing are a few of the activities we do, but while at work, they become another source of distraction. A study published by The University of Chicago found that the mere presence of a phone turned upside down reduces our cognitive load, which in turn reduces our ability to stay focused on the task at hand. Reduce this smartphone induced brain drain by putting your phone on silent and hiding it in your bag.

As technology progresses rapidly, so do digital distractions. Still, the good news is that by making small changes to the things we can control, we can begin to refocus our attention to be fully present so we can perform to our true potential every single day.

How do you manage distractions? What has worked or not worked for you? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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