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Workplace Distractions

There are many ways to become distracted while at work, but electronic distractions are an especially challenging problem because they divert time from work-related tasks, which affects productivity.  They can also be difficult to manage because professional workplaces require access to the internet, email, and software in order to complete work-related tasks.  Therefore, it is seldom possible to eliminate electronic distractions from the workplace. Instead, it will be necessary to develop strategies for managing them more effectively.
If your work has been disrupted frequently because you are distracted by the internet, social networking, gaming, or some other type of electronic distraction, then it may be necessary to organize and structure your work differently. It will also be important to evaluate the cumulative impact of all electronic distractions on your productivity and not focus on a single issue (e.g., Netflix).
There are several features of electronic distractions that make the task of managing them a challenge, and it is helpful to recognize these qualities in order to appreciate why it is often so difficult to address the problem.
  • The activity itself (e.g., surfing the web) is often much more engaging than the work-related task (e.g., reviewing a research article).
  • The activity is often an immersive experience, which makes it easy to lose track of time.
  • The activity is often structured in such a way that makes it easy for the user to persist on the task (e.g., Netflix’s “instant queue” feature).
  • The activity sustains attention in ways that divert the focus away from negative feelings (e.g., anxiety of guilt) that may prompt someone to decide to work.
  • The activity is to some degree private (e.g., your viewing a screen that belongs to you), which removes some of the social pressure that often prompts people to work.

Because it is unlikely that you will be able to eliminate all electronic distractions from your workspace, a more realistic goal would be to manage them so that they do not prevent you from meeting your professional goals. 

The first step is to review your work over the past several weeks and to evaluate whether or not you have been able to consistently meet your goals.
The second step is to determine the extent to which electronic distractions have affected your productivity. It is often helpful to focus on whether electronic distractions have affected your ability to get started and/or remain on task.
A third step would be to structure your workspace so that it minimizes access to electronic distractions. This may include physical barriers (e.g., leaving your phone at home) or software solutions (e.g., applications that block access to specific content on the internet). These resources will be explored in greater detail elsewhere on this site.