Humans not designed to keep working on one task for a long period of time and block out their surroundings – we wouldn’t still be here if sabre-toothed cats and the like were able to sneak up so easily on prehistoric man! But now things have moved on a little bit. We might be expected to keep our heads down be focused on our jobs for most of an 8 hour day, but we’re still constantly aware of our surroundings and that makes us easy to distract. There might not be any big cats on the loose in your office, but we’re still on the lookout for predators.
Ever been working away and suddenly find yourself part of a conversation with your co-workers? Perhaps you’re doing a task on the computer, perhaps payroll or data entry, but keep losing your place because your colleagues are making phone calls? If you work in front of a computer and behind a desk, your eyes will be focussed on the job, but your other senses aren’t busy. Sound-based distractions have the biggest impact to our concentration.
The obvious solution would then be to work in a totally silent office – no talking allowed, except maybe at lunch, with phone calls being taken and made in another room – but that doesn’t sound like a very nice place to work.
But there are ways around it – if there are certain aspects of your job where a bit of uninterrupted focus can make things go much smoother. Putting headphones in with a podcast, audiobook or bit of music will block out the noise of the rest of the office and stop you being distracted. It also has the bonus of showing to your coworkers that you’re busy and not wanting to be disturbed. If it’s available, there might be a private room or office you can use for these sorts of things – you can shut yourself away for an hour or two and get the job done without anybody bothering you.
What if those options aren’t available? Well, if distractions are going to be inevitable, then perhaps the best solution is to plan your work in shorter bursts. People struggle to focus on something for much longer than half an hour without some serious willpower and motivation. So don’t try and make yourself. Stick to working in 30 minute bursts, then get up, leave your work alone and make a brew, or go to the toilet, or just stretch your legs a bit for 5 minutes before you come back to it. It might sound like you’re constantly interrupting yourself, but it will help to keep your mind focussed because it’s getting regular breaks.
Keeping focused is probably one of the hardest things we have to do in the workplace, but knowing how best to keep your going on a task and avoid being distracted will bring you a lot more success in the future.