Think you can get through this 1,100-word article without answering an email, G-chatting a buddy or glancing at your Twitter feed? Think you can get through it without a co-worker or boss interrupting you? Or maybe this article serves as the perfect distraction from the looming report you’re supposed to be tackling.
Whatever the case, here’s the thing: Those workplace distractions snag more time than you think. As Edward G. Brown, author of “The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had,” puts it, there’s the distraction itself that steals time and attention, there’s the momentum lost and there’s the time it takes to say, “where was I?”and restart the task. Plus, he adds, consider the stress and frustration these distractions can brew, neither of which is ideal for working efficiently.
[Read: 12 Things Killer Employees Do Before Noon.]
Get a handle on your workplace distractions so you can get more done and feel better about it. And if this article is a distraction, read the tips below first before reopening the big report.
Build a wall. Julie Morgenstern, professional organizer and author of “Time Management from the Inside Out,” says there are two equally significant types of distractibility: outgoing, in which you distract yourself – perhaps by checking Reddit or choosing to chat with a co-worker instead of launching into the big report; and incoming, in which the world interrupts you with emails, chatty cubicle-mates and meetings.
Changing your environment can help both kinds of distractions, Morgenstern says, and it can be especially helpful for those in an open office. “You need to create a visual cocoon for yourself if you can,” she says. Create barriers that both help keep your eyes on your work and make you look less accessible to outsiders. Try stacking books, setting up plants or placing a lamp between you and the outside (well, outside cubicle) world.
Recognize your vulnerability to distractions. Maybe you’re instant messaging about weekend plans, checking the news on Twitter, scoping your friend’s new vacation photos, replying to your mother’s text – and, oh yeah, there’s that big report in some Word document, 20 tabs below the sea.
The first step in managing the many, many distractions technology presents is to simply be aware that they exist and may derail you. “It’s like a carnival,” Morgenstern says. “You walk in, and there are barkers and sellers and people yelling, ‘Come over here!’”
Change your mindset. You know how if you go into a Wal-Mart or Target superstore for a new toothbrush, you’ll likely come out with three (or 20) more items you had no intention to buy? Morgenstern likens this situation to technology. You jump on the computer with best intentions to work on the report and wind up posting, tweeting and commenting, too. With the superstore, Morgenstern says, you hopefully recognize your vulnerability and can make a plan for getting in and out next time: You make a list, you bring only a certain amount of money or perhaps set a time limit.
[Read: The Top Cyberloafing Activities of a Distracted Office Worker.]
Similarly, Morgenstern says, “Be conscious, and when you go on a computer, designate which part of that computer you are using and for what amount of time.” Morgenstern suggests using a timer on your phone to help. Until the buzzer sounds in 30 minutes, for example, you will work only on that report – come hell or high water, or emails or leaked celebrity wedding photos.
Take a stroll instead of a scroll. When you find yourself mindlessly cruising Facebook as that report gathers dust, you probably just need a break. “The impulse behind cyberloafing is, ‘my brain just needs a break,’” Morgenstern says. “We need some way to disconnect or recharge, or we hit some sort of wall.”
When we cruise the Internet, however, we’re “stealing breaks rather than taking them,” she says. You’re still staring at a screen, and you’re still stimulating the same part of your brain. We’ve got to cross-train our brain, and staring and staring at the computer – whether we’re actually working on the report or scrolling through Facebook – isn’t cutting it. “It’s like going to the gym and constantly working your right quad,” Morgenstern says. Sure, you’ll have one super buff thigh, but the rest of you will be puny.