How can I Avoid Distractions at Work?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

The phone never stops ringing, the co-worker next door never stops talking, and the boss never stops visiting your cluttered desk. If this describes your workplace environment, then you may have a problem with distractions. Too many distractions can lead to a loss of productivity and an increasing sense of frustration. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid distractions at work, at least the ones that prevent you from working at your best.

To minimize distractions at work, one may want to avoid particularly chatty co-workers.
To minimize distractions at work, one may want to avoid particularly chatty co-workers.

One way to avoid distractions is to take a personal inventory of all the existing traps and hazards you encounter in an average day. Begin with the commute into work. Are you arriving at work on time, or are others causing you to be chronically late? Are there co-workers or employers standing between you and your work area, eager to make small talk? Do you have a number of voice messages or emails awaiting immediate responses?

Employees may need to set boundaries with co-workers to avoid interruptions.
Employees may need to set boundaries with co-workers to avoid interruptions.

To avoid distractions that arise before you begin your actual work, you may have to readjust your morning schedule. If a carpool arrangement becomes unreliable, find another way to commute to work. Knowing you've arrived on time can cut down on the distraction of rushing through your pre-work routine.

Checking a cell phone is a common distraction at work.
Checking a cell phone is a common distraction at work.

Once you've arrived at work, keep moving deliberately to your desk. If people want to have a conversation, ask them to walk with you. Avoid making eye contact with especially chatty co-workers. You can still be polite without getting distracted by the water cooler gang.

People who work from home might be easily distracted by kids.
People who work from home might be easily distracted by kids.

Another way to avoid distractions at work is to set boundaries with family and friends. Personal phone calls and emails can become very distracting as the workday progresses. Whenever possible, inform your spouse, children, parents and best friends that your company frowns on too many personal calls. This policy may only exist in your busy mind, but it will help to reduce the number of outside distractions during work hours. Obviously, your family and friends may need to contact you for emergency reasons, but their definition of emergency may not necessarily meet your criteria. Make your outgoing calls during scheduled breaks or your lunch hour.

Making sure a work space is properly lighted can help stay focused at work.
Making sure a work space is properly lighted can help stay focused at work.

Some workers avoid distractions by setting up similar boundaries among co-workers. You may need to tell your work friends not to interrupt you between the hours of 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., for example, because you're on a tight deadline. If you remain polite but consistent, most co-workers should eventually get the idea. In order to avoid distractions such as casual conversations, it's important that you not be a distraction for others yourself. Save your own conversations for times when you are clearly away from your work area.

In a modern work environment, you can use technology to help avoid distractions. If you have voice mail capability, let the phone ring during busy times. For non-vital communications, provide clients with a fax number or email address. This should cut down on the number of distracting phone calls you receive throughout the day. You'll still have to deal with these messages, but at least you can respond at your own pace.

Many times, the best way to avoid distractions at work is to change your own focus. Try to tune out any distracting background noises, such as a blaring public address system or the noise of machinery. Eventually, you can train your mind to ignore most extraneous sounds. If your job requires attention to detail, work on developing a type of mental tunnel vision. Some work distractions are based on your own curiosity, so try to adapt a 'been there, seen that' attitude to remain on task.

People who are tired at work are more likely to become distracted.
People who are tired at work are more likely to become distracted.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Identifying your biggest distractions is a great first step to take control and stay focused. Like mentioned in the end of this post, by really focusing on what you do and "being in the moment" you can come a long way.


i work at a place where other co-workers are chatting and laughing too loud. that's very distracting and very rude but i don't know how to stop them being ignorant and disrespectful. i try to understand that is their nature of being rude and disrespectful.


@origami: 100 percent Ack!

I did a self experiment: 10 days ago I said to myself, stop chatting, disable IRC, ICQ, Skype etc to get your work done. Also at home, I haven't chatted for 10 days, neither in the evenings or at the weekend, with the target/hope to be more productive.

I am a programmer (as job and hobby). My hope was that when not chatting anymore I will be able to stay more focused to getting things done, especially those which I thought I couldn't finish because I am too distracted by chatting and things like that.

Turns out that I haven't even started one of those private projects I was hoping I would.

I am even more lazy/unsuccessful than I was with distraction/chatting. At work my productivity is more or less the same, even that I have stopped chatting. Ends up I will fire up more often Facebook, read news or think more about various things.

In the evenings I find myself going earlier to bed, and sleeping longer. But, sadly, no private hobbies done.

If anyone would have told me that this experiment would turn out like this, I think I wouldn't have believed him/her.

Anyway, I will keep the experiment up for a little longer to see what will happen. Mr. NoChat


I'll admit, I laughed out loud at some of those comments. Sorry. Especially to you, fellow female. I'm with you.

Anyway, I agree with tip #6 who suggested white noise. I use it to work from home, as well as to sleep in a noisy flat. Here's a free white noise generator if you don't want to spend any money.



I put headphones on and don't shower. If someone asks me a question I mumble, never make eye contact and always keep looking at my monitor. Everyone hates me but I get my work done.


Thanks for all of the tips. The background noise thing is huge for me. If I can hear other people's conversations, then my mind automatically tries to zero in on that rather than my task at hand. If I am really having trouble, I will turn on some white noise so that way I can't hear the conversations as well. There are lots of free online noise generators.


Interesting, I came to this article because I was actually looking for something to distract me from a very boring assignment that I am currently working on. I use this technique to help my productivity: I set breaks, say five min per hour, and only talk, browse or otherwise distract myself in these set times.


its very good for the people who get distracted more. for me myself, i am free from all distractions and am able to work.


It is very unfortunate that in order to communicate with workmates over the internet, one has to have the internet. I find that most of my days are spent actually just browsing the web, with no actual work being accomplished. It is quite sickening, and I feel quite unprepared to deal with it on my own. I've formed a pattern over the past 15 years of being on the internet all the time, and basically accomplish nothing at work, or even during my free time. I hope that I will be able to find a method to both produce work, and be offline. Last time I actually moved to another country into an apartment with no internet access, and it half-worked. (The net-cafes got my money then). This is a serious problem, and I do hope that it will be addressed soon.


I am the only woman on a floor with all guys. The locker room banter and bodily noise demonstrations along with the spontaneous outbursts of sounds, whistling and general turrets behaviors is my biggest distraction.

As our office has grown and the faces and dynamics have changed, I wondered if I was just being overly sensitive, so I counted. I used a post it note and every time someone made an unnecessary, rude, disturbing noise I made a tick mark. After four hours I tallied them to find that someone had made a random, useless outburst every 2 minutes. At least I had something to bring to management. I told them I didn't want anyone punished, after all the bahavior had been tolerated by other workers and management alike, but that I needed a slightly more subdued work environment to focus. There were some seating changes and some new rules. The guys can still be social, but now at least I can get my work done.


i think one of the biggest distractions at work is the internet itself. right there in the same box that many people use to complete their work (their computer) resides an endless supply of games, jokes, videos, articles etc.

the distractions on the internet are endless. new services like facebook and twitter only add to the pull.

i really think that those people who figure out how to keep web browsing and work separate are going to be the successes in the future. they will be productive while their coworkers will not have too much to show for themselves.

the distractions presented by the internet are unprecedented in the workplace and i think that companies, managers and employees alike need to take this very seriously.

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