7 Smart Ways to Avoid Office Distractions (even when chained to the desk)


Is your office a minefield of distractions?

You are working under a tight deadline. Client wants the presentation by end-of-day.
You rub your hands together and get down to work, only to get interrupted… again.

The phone starts to ring or your colleague walks up to describe the antics of her 3-year-old niece.
Two hours into the day and distractions have totally derailed your plan to complete the presentation.

Does this sound familiar? Do you have trouble getting work done due to repeated distractions?

If you said ‘YES’, don’t blame yourself for getting interrupted from important tasks.

Most people working in traditional office environments have trouble maintaining high levels of focus and uninterrupted workflow.

In fact, a 2014 State of Workplace Productivity Report by talent management firm Cornerstone OnDemand revealed that 65% of workers think a flexible and remote work schedule would increase their productivity. Moreover, as open offices become commonplace, 43% of workers said they’re getting less done because of the constant interruptions from coworkers.

Working in your PJs

When travel website Ctrip gave its call centre staff the opportunity to work from home for nine months, they found that the at-home workers were not only happier and less likely to quit but also turned out to be more productive as compared to the control group that remained in the office.

People working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them.

While one-third of the productivity increase was due to having a quieter environment, which makes it easier to process calls.

“The other two-thirds can be attributed to the fact that the people at home worked more hours. They started earlier, took shorter breaks, and worked until the end of the day. They had no commute. They didn’t run errands at lunch. Sick days for employees working from home plummeted,” wrote Nicholas Bloom, Professor of Economics at Stanford University in the HBR article To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work from Home.

Get out of office

Can you really? (How I wish I could!)

While some workplaces may offer flex-hours and remote work options, for most of us the reality is that we are chained to our desks.

Does that mean you are forever doomed to remain unproductive because you can’t do your job remotely? Or your boss is simply too rigid to let you?

Not at all!

Here are 7 smart ways to mimic the benefits of remote working to beat your workplace distractions, without leaving the office building:

1. Wear your invisibility cloak

It may be the unused conference room or a floor away from your desk. Find that quiet spot and disappear for a few hours to get on with the report. For me it is the unused staircase in my office building. I use it to make important calls that should not be interrupted or to think up great article ideas.

2. Shut that door

An open door policy is great for free flow of communication, but if used indiscriminately it will prevent you from getting work done. If you have a door, shut it when you need uninterrupted time. If your workplace is a cubicle without actual doors (mine is), position yourself with your back towards the entrance. That should get you some distraction-free time.

3. Play some music

Music is a great way to boost your productivity and isolate yourself from distractions. Moreover, the practice of wearing headphones will often prevent coworkers from walking up to your desk for a quick chat. I sometimes listen to tunes from Brain.fm to increase my focus and concentration on the task at hand.

4. Indicate your isolation

Putting a ‘do-not-disturb’ sign on your desk may not go down very well with your coworkers, but there are other great ways to indicate that you are occupied. Put on headphones (read point 3) or create visual barriers, such as a stack of files, plants, or a lamp, that makes it harder for people to glance over and make eye contact. If coworkers still want to chat, politely indicate that unless it’s an emergency they would have to come back later or leave a note.

5. Work when others do not

Do you know when your office is usually deserted? Does everyone arrive at 9 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m.? If you have flexible timings, consider coming in an hour early or staying late now and then to get some uninterrupted work done.

6. Take a lunch break

Eating at your desk while working on the sales report may seem highly productive. Especially since offices are quieter during lunchtime and free from usual noises and distractions. However, you need to take regular breaks and relax to improve focus and efficiency. Moreover, if you don’t interact with your coworkers during your scheduled break, there are higher chances they will want to talk post lunch or at some other time which is not convenient for you (when you are busy with a high priority project).

7. Turn off the beeps

It is not just coworkers or frequent meetings that disturb our concentration. The steady stream of emails, texts and social media notifications that keep popping on our handsets and desktops is equally at fault. When you’re under a deadline, close your email program (or ask your tech team to turn off your internet connection for few hours) and put your phone on silent to avoid getting thrown off track.

What other methods will you use today to banish your office distractions?

3 thoughts on “7 Smart Ways to Avoid Office Distractions (even when chained to the desk)”

  1. Music and headphones. I can’t work without headphones, and an additional benefit of using them in a shared office environment is that people will think twice before interrupting you to ask a non-essential question because it’s awkward for you to have to take off the headphones to talk. I’ll have to try some of your other suggestions and get back to you on how they helped.


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