Handling Distractions At Work

Do you have a coworker with a natural gift of interrupting you?

Maybe he or she is actually a really nice person- or a wonderful human being… well-intentioned… yet this person also creates a lot of distractions.

I’ve worked with several of these people and bet that there was a time when people considered me to be one of them – hopefully long, long ago!

Depending on the type of work environment you have some of these suggestions will be easier to implement than others; working in an open floor plan or cubicle environment presents its own set of distractions as well; we’ll cover some additional tactics for that in next week’s blog.

In the meantime, here are several ways for you to start reducing the amount of distraction in your day to use as a starting point.

  1. Examine Yourself First:

    Usually, people create the behavior they end up receiving.
    I remember having a boss once who was not the easiest character to get along with; however, he had excellent boundaries.
    Showing up in his doorway to chat or ask a quick question was a known no-no.
    He didn’t do it to anyone else either.
    If you have the tendency to interrupt others they are more likely to interrupt you.
    Examine your own behavior; if you are interrupting others, stop.
    I use a section in my journal to keep a list of questions for people or things I want to tell people as they pop into my mind so that I do not have to bother them at the moment; I filter these out of my list and into emails, texts, calls, or conversations toward the end of the day.
    If you would like to know more about the way that I manage all this so nothing falls through the cracks, please email me and I’ll send you my personal organizational system – just let me know if you are an iOS or Android user so I can send you the version that will be useful for you.

  2. Don’t Gossip. Ever:

    It doesn’t matter if you only gossip over cocktails; if you’re talking about people who are in your office place, that type of behavior is going to follow you back into the office.
    If gossip, venting or complaints are something that you entertain with any of your co-workers, you’re playing with fire.
    That opens you up for your professional confidantes to pop in and turn your office into a gossip den.
    Don’t go there.
    People who gossip tend to waste more time chit-chatting at work than anyone else.
    That translates into their having lower productivity – and lower productivity translates into less likelihood for raises and promotions.
    If there are issues at work you want to discuss with someone – use us!
    Either schedule a free session or join our online mastermind community where there are lots of supportive professionals just like you just waiting to give you ideas and support!

  3. Consider Headphones:

    When I was in an office, I had great big “Hey, Mr. DJ!” headphones.
    Usually there was nothing playing on them, however, just the visual of me with the big things on my head was enough of a deterrent for the office’s Chatty Cathy (sorry if your name is Cathy) to pop in and start gabbing.
    Because I’m exceedingly friendly and caring people have always sought me out for conversations.
    That means the burden is on me to frame my availability of these conversations.
    Headphones and earbuds are an automatic signal to others that you’re in the middle of something, or at least your ears are otherwise occupied with something called “not them.”
    And remember what I was “listening to” – nothing.
    You don’t have to have any noise happening – or you can choose music that will not be distracting, or a white noise track.
    That will reduce the distraction of random and unnecessary talk.
    If a person really needs you, he or she will interrupt because it’s important.
    When I implemented this tool in that office where the culture was an “open door policy” (More on that in a bit…) my productivity went way up because people stopped talking to me unless I invited the conversation.

  4. Reduce Your own Distractions:

    People walking in and speaking at inopportune times is one thing, but it wouldn’t be nearly so bad for you if you weren’t already allowing a ton of unnecessary distractions already.
    Put your email inbox on pause, turn off the phone ringer, and do not have your cell phone in your pocket or where the beeps and buzzes can disturb you.
    Schedule two individual times (in your calendar – as you would any other appointment) during which you’ll respond to email.
    If someone sends you an urgent email, they’ll reach out in another way if they don’t hear back from you.
    That’s one point in our next section about boundaries.
    The fewer distractions you allow to be programmed into your life, the more productive you will be overall.

  5. Set Some Boundaries:

    Have a discussion with your co-workers about your needs when it comes to focus, attention, and productivity.
    If you have a co-worker with a 3 pm habit of coming to chat because he or she is having the mid-afternoon brain fog or has reached a point of boredom, notice the pattern and schedule time to discuss it with that person.
    Have an honest discussion with your co-workers about your needs and ask them to respect them.
    You can also implement tools such as closing a door, posting a small sign indicating you are unavailable, or if you have the option of mobility, finding an alternate space to work on projects where you are less likely to be found and disturbed… if you use this last one, just make sure your boss is on board and can reach you if needed.

  6. Buck Up & Be Honest; Don’t Be Afraid to Defer.

You must keep your priorities at the forefront of your focus.
You don’t have to be rude when telling someone they’re bothering you; simply saying “I’m very focused on something right now; could we discuss this at 3:00?” (or tomorrow, or whenever you have available) is an excellent option.
The situation is not going to change on its own, so you’re going to have to take matters into your own hands in some way.
Letting the person (or people) know in this way that you will not allow them to dictate your availability is a professional and appropriate tactic to get your message across.
You may have to do this several times with each distracting co-worker; remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.
When you set new boundaries with people you have to give them a chance to pick up what you’re putting down; they are “in training” and folks who are training for something don’t do it perfectly the first time.

  1. Implement a Closed-Door/Open-Calendar Policy:

    This means you are open to discussions and meetings but not unnecessary distractions.
    This type of practice is becoming more commonplace in offices than the previously popular “open-door policy” which encourages people to just pop in regardless of what the other person has going on – that’s a productivity killer.
    It wastes a minimum of 15 minutes of your work day every single time you are disturbed – therefore, many efficiency-conscious companies are loving this shift to closed-door open-calendar lifestyles.
    It’s more respectful and from a holistic standpoint is a much healthier boundary system than an open door.
    This policy includes your intentionally scheduling pockets of time in your calendar – daily- for people to schedule to talk. …even if it’s not work related.
    This will let them know when you are available for a pop-in and when you are not… only, the pop-in is scheduled.


This blog may not cover every possible distraction; however, it’s an excellent starting point to reclaim some of your time and be more productive.

Don’t forget – next week we’ll tackle open-office floor plan and cubicle office distractions; subscribe to receive our weekly posts by email.

GILD has a 30-minute masterclass that focuses on time management and boundaries. Click here to register for our next class time – and don’t worry, if you can’t make it at that time, you will get a link to watch a limited-availability replay over the next 24 hours.

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