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Beating the demons of distraction

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With all the noise from emails and chatty staff, the office can seem hell bent on not letting you work. Akankasha Dewan shares a few tricks you can adopt to beat the demons of distraction.

We’ve all been there.

You’re super engrossed in doing an important piece of work, with all of your mental faculties working at optimal levels.

And then bam! – along comes an enticing ping of new emails, an endearingly chatty colleague, or a personal WhatsApp message.

You don’t give thought to how pressing (or mainly, non-pressing) the distraction is – you just give it attention.

Five minutes, 10 minutes. Sometimes it goes over an hour.

When you get back to work, you’ve no idea where you left off, and you can’t get your mind and heart back into it.

There goes your valuable time and effort. There goes your momentum and peak of creativity.

This situation is all the more sombre because we know there’s no chance of shutting out the world while being busy at work.

What we do know, however, is the decision to stay focused at work is in our hands. It’s about finding the right techniques, knowing your priorities, and sticking to them.

Here are three easy secrets of beating the demons of distraction:

1. Make it obvious you’re busy

Chatty colleagues have often been identified as the biggest driver distracting staff away from work. While being open and friendly at work helps in building camaraderie and a sense of bonding, it helps to remember that too much of a good thing can be bad.

That’s partly why I prefer wearing huge, bright neon-Pink headphones every time I’m busy.

Not only does the noise-cancelling effect of this device help me in being oblivious to any chatter nearby, the overtly obvious headphones act as a great “do not disturb” sign to any of my peers wishing to talk to me.

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A commonly encountered downfall to such a tactic is it might make you come across as constantly unavailable or simply not interested in either helping colleagues (especially those of external teams) or socialising as well.

This could possibly lead to unpleasantness within the office.

In such a situation, I’ve observed having unofficial “office hours” help significantly in making yourself available to colleagues.

A pre-set window of time daily can let your colleagues know they can approach you at that particular period – be it for either professional consultations or personal ones – and not be disappointed.

All you need to do, however, is make these hours known to your teammates in a firm, yet polite manner.

2. Keep a timely schedule

Speaking of office hours, it helps to have a personal deadline of sorts within the day.

Often, professionals are advised to prepare a “to-do” list of sorts every day to ensure they meet their targets on time.

I like to go a step further and set the exact time of the day I can finish my tasks.

Besides ensuring my list of work tasks remains feasible and realistic, such a strategy allows me to keep track of the exact amount of time I’m actually working and the amount I’m not.

For example, I know that I can accommodate spending a little more time at the office pantry, check my personal messages or surf the web, as long as I am done writing my stories for the day by 12 noon every day.

3. Embrace distractions

Last, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

A distraction at the wrong time can really derail the task at hand. However, that doesn’t mean we have to have Zen-like focus 24/7 – in fact, distraction and procrastination are vital to healthy living,

Studies have even shown that taking a break at work can make you more productive – as long as it’s done at the right times.

The trick here is: Instead of letting your brain distract you in the middle of something important, schedule specific times for your procrastination along with everything else (see #2).

Doing so will give you something to look forward to as you push through that last pre-break task.

Do 17-minute breaks really work?

For example, right after our daily intense early-morning coverage of the day’s stories, myself and the editorial team often take a 10-minute breather to glance at the more trivial happenings of the day, and provide our expert comments on why Kim Kardashian wore what she did at the place she went to.

Light-hearted jesting among ourselves also helps us feel refreshed and keeps us productive as we move onto the remaining tasks of the day.

Image: Shutterstock

HR Masterclass Series: We're going virtual! New courses, new formats!
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Akankasha Dewan

Human Resources Magazine Singapore
With a passion for the written word, and a deep interest in the wide-ranging secrets of the HR industry, Akankasha spends her time writing and conversing about the people dimension of the corporate world. She also fights criticisms against Fifty Shades of Grey by night.

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