4 Ways to Eliminate Office Distractions and Regain Control of Your Time

In an article published in Fast Co. magazine back in 2005, Linda Tischler wrote an essay entitled Death to the Cubicle! She said ‘Collaboration is great, but sometimes I’d kill for a door.’

With open office space and arenas developed for shared team communication, it has become more of an issue of employee focus rather than privacy and leaving employees frustrated and stressed. It’s really about the ability to think critically which affects job performance, company outcomes and results.

The Fast Co. article goes on to quote Dr. Tom Davenport. Dr. Davenport is a professor of Management and Information Systems at Babson College who conducted a yearlong survey of a cross-section of professionals and found three factors that determined white collar performance:

  1. Management and organization
  2. Information technology
  3. Workplace design

I would argue that all of these items are connected. Just as paper, time, space and digital file management are all connected. It’s not one at the exclusion of the other. It’s finding a way to connect the dots with all of these factors so employees can work in a productive and focused manner when they need to do so.

So other than an open workspace plan, what’s causing this growing inability to concentrate? Consider these:

  • Interruptions and distractions – 25 years ago we experienced 3 interruptions an hour in the workplace. Today the number is 20 per hour. And that doesn’t include the interruptions and distractions that we generate.
  • Technology – Emails, phones, text messages, videos…sounds coming from everywhere. It’s part of the world we live in today and as I always say, technology is both the savior and the culprit.

So the question is what can you do to create an environment that enables you to focus on your short term and long term projects?

Employee could consider:

  1. Setting boundaries. You’re the only person who can set boundaries for yourself and if you choose not to do so, others will set them for you. So it becomes a matter of setting expectations. But remember that interruptions can be internal (checking your social media more often than not) and external (others coming to you with constant questions). So the first step is determining where they’re coming from and then developing a plan and an approach for managing them by learning to say ‘no’…to others and to yourself.
  2. Blocking time and technology. Put a block of time in your calendar every day where your plan is to focus, uninterrupted, on moving your priorities forward. Then turn off technology. Unplug. It doesn’t have to be for the entire day, just for a period of time that would provide you with a sustained, continual period of uninterrupted time. Carving time out isn’t easy and if you don’t practice setting boundaries it will be time wasted and never coming back. If all else fails, get up one hour early or use time in the shower, in your car or on the train. Whatever you do, create a space and guard it on a daily basis. Even 15 minutes a day means you will have achieved over an hour of think time by the end of the week

Organizations could consider:

  1. Designated space. Creating a workspace environment where employees can focus and concentrate is key time management and productivity element. Critical thinking is required to help execute on priorities tied to personal goals, professional goals and especially the organization’s strategic goals. Not only is creating this environment challenging, but remember that different styles require different levels of focus and concentration. Some employees need to concentrate in shorter periods of time and others need review certain topics for longer periods of time. To this end, larger organizations have created pods, rooms, and sections of a building designated for employee think time. No talking or noise of any kind is allowed. If your organization doesn’t have the luxury of rooms or buildings for this type of approach, please read on.
  2. Designated time. One employee I saw put a short curtain on a spring-loaded curtain rod and placed it across the entrance to her cubicle. It was her way of saying to the world ‘please don’t bother me now because I need this time to concentrate on my project’. An ingenious approach. But why should an employee have to go to this length? Consider creating a policy of ‘quiet time’, just as some organizations have policies about ‘no email on Fridays, etc.’. This would mean that during certain times of the day or days of the week quiet time would be observed so employees can work on priorities uninterrupted. Set the expectation, honor it and see what happens. I tried this in one organization, for 1.5 hours each day and at first employees pushed back. By the end of the week they were asking if it could be extended to 2 hours each day.

You or your employees may not want to adopt the curtain rod approach, but having time to think in an uninterrupted environment can make a significant difference in your bottom line…and peace of mind.

About the Author

Cynthia Kyriazis, Founder and President of Productivity Partners Inc., has provided productivity training and coaching for Fortune 500 to small business clients for over 20 years. Recently named one of “28 best online productivity experts”, her passion is teaching employees how to apply the principles of organization and time-management and to help them navigate the 24/7 demands on their time. Cynthia is set to release her second book in February 2016, Get Organized. Get Focused. Get Moving.: How to Avoid Productivity Potholes, a guide for helping business professionals avert common obstacles to productivity.