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September 28th, 2008 at 11:26 pm

How to Avoid Distractions at Work and Accomplish More

 Read some of the sage advice of a long time coach if you are finding yourself distracted at work. This great advice is also an eye opener for folks working at  home.

 By: Natalie Gahrmann

Communication technologies were supposed to make working lives run more smoothly but actually prevent people from getting critical tasks accomplished. Interruptions consume 28 percent of the average work day — roughly $650 billion each year. Overall satisfaction for completing a job well is reduced because of distractions and interruptions, causing frustration, anger and stress. It can even take a toll on quality relationships.

To better handle distractions and overcome them, first identify yours: what causes you to lose focus at work? At home?

In an informal survey of 500 managers at every level of corporate management conducted by Natalie Gahrmann of N-R-G Coaching Associates, the top distractions in the US work place were uncovered.

E-mail was identified as the number one offender. Most people complain of burgeoning in-boxes from recipients expecting an instant response, address lists including unnecessary recipients, and large volumes of unsolicited e-mails. Our society places a high value and unrealistic expectations on immediate access and response.

Text messages, instant messaging and online chat (frequently used in some work environments as a communication tool) are often over-used; some are in the form of pop-up boxes that immediately open when the message arrives. The Internet and the ease to search for hours on end is a frequent offender both at home and at work.

The best way to manage these is to prevent them in the first place — managing expectations in an age of instant access is a challenge but possible with clear indications of when and how these will be handled.

Telephone calls are another big distraction in our lives. When focusing on the task-at-hand, most people feel the need to pick-up the ringing phone whether it’s the cell phone or standard office line. Calls can come from coworkers, customers, patients, your boss, and family, friends and personal service providers (e.g., doctor, lawyer, accountant, auto mechanic, real estate agent). It’s easy to say “just don’t answer the phone” or “turn the ringer off” during focus times, it’s another thing to put this into practice. As long as your caller has an opportunity to leave a voice message, they will do so and you can call back at a more convenient time.

Although the above distractions were identified most frequently, other distractions interfere with productivity and job satisfaction, including:

Shifting Priorities. As John F. Kennedy said, “The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.” Thus changing priorities presents numerous challenges for the workforce. With change being so prevalent in the work place, being able to multitask, switch gears or re-prioritize has become quite commonplace. Crisis-of-the-day management techniques rarely work long-term in achieving individual and corporate goals. The best method for handling a change of priorities is to understand before acting, ask questions, re-prioritize, and respond rather than react.

Too Much to Do. Many people complain of having too much on their plate. With a heavy workload you may feel like you never get caught up. Too many projects, unrealistic deadlines and ineffective resources contribute to many feeling overwhelmed. Getting better organized, being able to set priorities or saying “no” can help you better manage everything on your plate.

Multitasking has been proven to be an ineffective technique for managing everything vying for your attention — separate the urgent from the important and decide what really needs your time and attention.

Meetings. Hours can be wasted in meetings, especially those that have no clear agenda or purpose. The best meetings have the right people present, a good facilitator, a clear agenda, and specific action steps.

The environment can be very disturbing when you are trying to concentrate. This includes a messy office, disorganized files or desktop, excess noise, poor lighting, offensive odors, an uncomfortable chair, improper temperature. Office ergonomics play a huge role in productivity and efficiency. Lack of privacy in many offices or open office space tends to provide a noisier atmosphere than most would prefer. Keep your working space neat and well organized. Control what you can in your work environment. Find ways to minimize the distraction from things totally out of your control.

Technology Issues. Problems with non-functioning or poorly functioning equipment cause frustration and stress in addition to wasted time. If you’ve ever had your computer freeze up or lose power before you have the chance to save files, you know about this distraction. Printers out of toner, server issues and hard drive crashes are not always preventable but some planning and regular back-ups could prevent any loss.

Mental Attitude. How you think determines your actions and behavior. When you have negative self-talk such as “I can’t do this” or “I’m not smart enough,” you are prevented from performing at optimal levels. Limiting beliefs result in poor performance. A positive attitude will help you accomplish more. Limiting needless worry, stress, frustration and concern will help you stay focused.

Personal Needs. Not tending to your physical, safety, social or achievement needs effects your ability to concentrate and contribute at work. Health issues, whether yours, your loved ones or a colleague all effect your focus on your work, as well. Addictions such as smoking, caffeine, workaholism also play a role in productivity. Tending to your needs diminishes the distractions caused by ignoring them.

Improper training. Having the competence to perform your work will help you focus on the tasks-at-hand. However, being in the wrong job for your skill set will be very non-productive. Some jobs are a better match for you than others. Working in a position that taps into your strengths will help you succeed and be less distracted by embarrassment, ego, fear, frustration or other emotions that may interfere with job performance.

Distractions and interruptions are all around you but by recognizing what causes you to lose focus can help you become more productive by directly address the causes.

 Natalie Gahrmann, MA, PCC, CUCG travels the country speaking about how to overcome, what she calls “O.D.D.,” or Obsessive Distraction Disorder. Coming from the perspective of a high achiever who used to overfill her own plate, Natalie teaches others how to better manage all the personal and professional obligations so that they can concentrate on what is truly important, while minimizing the distractions that can take them off-task. With numerous, national media appearances and a successful book: Succeeding as a Super Busy Parent, under her belt, Natalie Gahrmann’s profound wisdom and actionable strategies will help you, not just juggle what is on your plate, but better manage expectations, attention and obligations. To learn more visit  http://www.overcomingdistractions.com.

2
  • 1

    Here’s another way to avoid distractions at work as it relates to cell phones. Hope you enjoy.

    See Writing Frontier’s piece “Are you talking to me?” at

    http://writingfrontier.com/2008/07/12/are-you-talking-to-me/

    Writing Frontier on September 29th, 2008
  • 2

    Cell phones are a huge distraction for people. I even had an audience member once share that she slept with her Blackberry under her pillow. People need to learn to disengage from the need to always be available!

    The Distraction Diva on October 1st, 2008
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