10 ways to beat distractions at work

Are you often distracted at work? Find out why we’re addicted to our mobile phones – and discover 10 ways you can beat workplace distractions. 

According to research, the average mobile phone user touches their phone a mind-boggling 2,617 times a day! And it’s safe to assume that a significant number of these occasions happen at work.

But what exactly are we doing with our phones? Apparently half of us make or take at least one personal call a week when we should be working. Almost two thirds send at least one text, and just over half of browse the internet on their phones.

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But arguably the cheekiest habit we allow ourselves is browsing social media (when it’s not for work purposes), which just under half of us are guilty of doing.

Old-fashioned phone etiquette existed to prevent us from being involuntarily disturbed by the intrusion of a phone call. But what makes our smartphones so addictive today that we actively seek out this distraction, especially when we know we should be concentrating on our work?

Why we’re addicted to digital dopamine

Far from feeling like a guilty distraction, checking our smartphones actually makes us feel really good – and who doesn’t desire a little boost to their mood during a mundane workday?

This is because our brains see receiving a text, social media notification or even a LinkedIn update as a reward. Our bodies anticipate this sensation by triggering the release of dopamine, which focuses our attention on receiving the reward.

The cycle of “desire and reward” makes checking our phones feel worthwhile, when in reality it’s just a pleasurable distraction.

What’s more, dopamine motivates us to seek out these rewards, causing us to routinely check our phones. We’re also constantly switched on to the possibility of a reward, making us hypersensitive to every buzz, ring and flicker of our phones.

What we might not realise is, the desire sensation is stronger than the reward sensation. So, when we check our phones and either receive our reward via a notification or lose out on this sensation when there’s no update, dopamine can still drive us to seek out our reward in the future.

Smartphones aren’t the only distraction at work

However, it’s important to put these smartphone impulses into perspective; our mobiles aren’t the only distraction we face in the workplace – and probably not the most frequent.

Workers must contend with all manner of interruptions that sap productivity from their daily tasks; from fielding questions from colleagues, taking calls and attending ad-hoc meetings, to the constant influx of emails and unwanted gossip from chatty co-workers.

These distractions are so frequent in fact, that the average office worker faces an interruption or needs to switch their attention to a different task once every three minutes.

Finding a way to cope with these distractions and be more efficient at work – in an environment where often fewer staff must take on a greater number of tasks – can mean the difference between survival and burnout.

And while we face countless interruptions in the workplace, we must acknowledge that limiting the face time we offer our phones can make a real difference to our concentration levels and the workload we can achieve when not distracted. 

10 ideas to help you beat workplace distractions

Fortunately, with a little willpower and a few simple changes, it’s possible to reduce the level of distraction our smartphones create – and beat other workplace distractions too. Here are 10 ideas to get you started:

  1. Switch off – turn off all light, vibration, and sound notifications on your phone so you won’t get distracted by calls and texts. (Or better, turn your phone off completely.)
  2. Push back – disable push notifications or schedule them to arrive at certain times of day.
  3. Ban your phone – where possible, make your desk a ‘no phone zone’ and move your mobile away and out of sight completely.
  4. Use Focus Blocks – Schedule Focus Blocks and power through important projects (done properly, you can get a day’s work completed in just 90 minutes).
  5. Eat to work – eat a hearty breakfast and bring healthy snacks into work (like these ones) to prevent mid-morning and afternoon energy slumps.
  6. Practise meditation – research has discovered it can enhance your attention skills.
  7. Work offline – around 60% of workplace distractions are digital. So when you can, switch your phone and laptop off and go back to old-fashioned pen and paper
  8. Tidy up – rid your desk or workspace of anything that may distract you. Remember, tidy desk, tidy mind!
  9. Reward yourself – promise yourself a treat when you’ve completed a task. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated… a celebratory cup of tea works for us!
  10. Tell people not to disturb you – if you need to complete a particular project and you know you’re easily distracted, ask people not to disturb you until you’re finished.

Photo by Green Chameleon