How to Deal with Distractions At Work

Distraction, procrastination and time-sinkholes comprise the terrible trio of the epidemic afflicting today’s working population.

Individually, we are pressed for time, scattered in our focus, and always trying ‘just to catch up.’ Collectively, we dribble away millions of man-hours of labor and lost productivity, and are left with an exhausted, anxious and fed-up work-force.

What can you do — on your own terms — to turn things around?

  • First, take rightful ownership of your time.
  • If you’re working for someone, they’re paying you for results.
  • You discipline yourself to get those results with the least amount of strain or stress you can, you’re half-way there already.

Get to those results, and you control the time you save yourself, for yourself. Look out for number one, that’s the ticket. They get their results, you get your control and ownership of that freed time — to live your life, you know?

You keep training yourself to manage your energy and time, to approach work with a calm and clear head, you cultivate a habit that will help you handle stress in a healthier way.

Result: You will still possess your time, it’s really a matter of training yourself to see how to partition it clearly to get the best results for yourself.


How to turn things around.

Be ruthless. Workplace pressures are difficult to influence. Unclear and haphazard business practices, a negative work environment, co-workers who don’t pull their own weight… there will always be things you can’t quite screen out at work, but what you can do is use the pressure to focus on what is in your power to change: your mind-set and your attitude. That is where everything starts — in your head.

In your head, you can imagine your actions and responses. You not only think, but predicts, assess, plot, and practice.

See, reactions happen in reflex. Something happens, you react.

Responses are thought out. Something happens, you take even a few seconds to breath and think about what is happening and how best to handle the situation, and you respond.

Planning and preparing ahead are vital, because it’s usually the small, regular irritants that suck us dry, and the rarer out-of-the blue events that can derail our day. Prepare ahead of time.

If you know what’s distracting you and you don’t do anything to deal with them, all the bitching in the world won’t change a damn thing. You have to take an active role in dealing with the things you don’t want to get the things you do want. No one else will do it for you.

Ask, where does your time go?
People lose time when they’re distracted. Falling down the Wikipedia or TVtropes sinkhole, mindlessly refreshing social media sites, having one’s train of thought derailed when a message alert pings, the phone rings or a co-worker comes up to ask a question …you don’t see it happening, but it’s happening right in front of you.

To control your time, you need to know where it goes. Make a log.
No, this isn’t a joke. You can’t measure any changes if you don’t measure first. Make a log. Look, really look, at where you spend your time, not where you think you do. Get proof.

Use a time tracker for your activities on the internet. Get one of those programs that can tell you where and when and how much time you spend browsing on the internet. It’s a fair bet to assume we live on our computers for much of the working day, and the internet is the wonderful black hole of all the information you can browse. Get Leechblock for Firefox, or your add-on of choice for your preferred browser, and set the rules. Fence out the distracting websites until you get the work-work done.

Where do you need your time to go?
Organizational awareness is a non-negotiable element here. You need to know (A) What needs to be done, (B) how much time you need to do it well and (C) how much time you have.

(C) is cut and dried. There are 24 hours in a day and you need to sleep. There’s also meals, self-care and hygiene, and commuting (usually). At work there will be email, meetings, processing, checking, etc. So you have (C) as the time left.

What needs to be done (A) trumps over the time you have blocked for it (C) because when you know exactly what A is, you can get C and use it to fence around A, leaving yourself with some extra as a buffer. No buffer means no leeway in case interruptions pop up.

  • If it’s important but not urgent you can chip at it every day.
  • If it’s urgent and important you can section off the block of time needed and focus your attention on that.

You need to have your priorities clear, and enforce the discipline needed to put these priorities first.

It starts with looking at and planning for the week ahead (You break down the month first, according to Big Deals, Regular Chunks and Everyday Duties.)

  • What do I need to do and how much time will it need?
  • What needs to be done today? What needs to be smoothed out today to prepare for tomorrow?
  • How will I know when it’s done?

Important things are those that are waiting for regular attention, urgent things are those that need to be finished. At this point you should know this already. Block and fence the best times to attend completely on these things.


How much good work can you realistically put into a work day?
Be honest. Look at your paper schedule, and look at your work log. How much of the to-do list got checked off, and how much of that was composed of important but not urgent matters?

A schedule puts structure to your days. Like lines in the sand drawing out maps of where you need to go, what you need to do, who you need to be (writer, coder, coordinator, errand-runner, facilitator, etc.) Writing things down and putting the list in a very visible spot helps pull you back on track when you get distracted.

  • What goes where?
  • Who is responsible, to finish by when and at what time?
  • Can this be scheduled automatically?
  • Can it be automated?

Stay awake. Automation is good for lesser tasks, but you need to be present to finish. Awake doesn’t just mean “out of bed and walking.” It means having conscious focus and attention.

Stay aware. Put things down in terms of energy bars: this is only how much energy you have to spend today, where do you spend your energy to do the most good for your goals?

Take care of yourself.  Keep yourself well-hydrated, unkinked and well-fed. And oxygenated.

  • If you’re prone to just a cup of coffee for breakfast before haring of to work, you might find your attention compromised by a headache or fuzzy thinking by mid-morning due to dehydration. Cold water infused with cucumber and-or lemon slices is a tasty, easy way to keep refreshed.
  • Schedule stretching breaks to get the curve out of your computer slouch.
  • Have good, non-sugary snacks handy to keep yourself from hitting a sugar slump and crashing, an event which can cause irritation, fuzzy thinking, and a case of the ‘hangries’ (Hungry + Angry). Your co-workers will thank you.
  • When you slump for hours in front of a computer, you won’t be able to breathe deeply. Along with the stretching breaks, do deep breathing exercises to chase off the drowsiness associated with having low-oxygen levels.

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