10 Ways to Reduce Distractions at Work

Every Thursday at 8 PM EST, David Spinks and Lauren Fernandez host a Twitter chat called #u30pro.  Its focus is to create a network of young (aka “under-30″) professionals, but participants of all ages are invited to join the discussion and share their relevant wisdom.

Last week, the topic involved offices — namely, do we still need them?

With such a web-enabled modern workforce, is there still actual value in requiring people to work in one place for 40+ hours every week?

Making the Case for Tunnel Vision

As many #u30pro participants admitted, working from home exposes a person to daylong distractions (e.g., kids, pets, video games, running errands, taking a nap).  Wouldn’t being stuck at the office be more productive by default?

And yet, in an office, you’re still assaulted with distractions of a different stripe: questions, emergencies, small talk, meetings, upgrades, lunch breaks, coffee breaks, memos…

Is there really any difference?

Yes, But It’s All in Your Head

As I tweeted during #u30pro, an “office” is less important than “a place where you can focus and accomplish your goals.”

And, whether you work at home or in an office, that focus is ultimately up to you.

To help reduce the white noise that can distract you from your goals, consider these tips:

1. Shorter Emails, Less Often

Very few emails require immediate replies, and even fewer emails require long replies.  Check your email when you start work, after lunch, and before you end your day.  Send your replies immediately, but don’t check back in the interim (unless it’s an emergency).

Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, suggests doing even less.

2. “Got It.”

Two little words that can put an end to an otherwise endless chain of emails.  It lets the sender know a document or message was received without sparking an elaborate and pointless conversation.  (e.g., “I got your message — thanks for such a prompt reply!” ~ “No problem! Glad to know everything worked out.” ~ “Sure did!  If anything else comes up, I’ll let you know.” ~ “Please do!  Although I’ll be out of the office most of next week.” ~ “In that case, have a great vacation!” etc. etc. etc.)

Stop wasting everybody’s time.

“Got it.”

Onward.

3. Block out your time.

Accomplishing the first 3 items on your to-do list by 10 AM is nice, but if those last 2 items linger because you felt like you had time to kill, you’ll still end up working late.

Instead, try this: list every hour of your workday and assign 2 or 3 to-dos to get done in each hour (or , if a project is large or ongoing, in each block of time).

If you get that hour’s work done in less than an hour, congratulations: you’ve earned a break.  (Until next hour.)

Otherwise, even the shortest to-do list can remain undone if you confuse small tasks with the big picture.

4. Schedule “Me” Time, and Defend It Viciously.

If you need a coffee break at 10 and 2, take it.

If you need to surf Twitter between tasks because it helps your mind realign, do it.

And yes, naps are good.

Your work gets done because you’re good at what you do, not because you’re a machine.

5. Close Your Door.

If you have an office, you have the right to close the door.  If your coworkers keep interrupting you anyway, you have the right to lock it.  And if they keep knocking, you have the right to crawl out the window and work from the cafe down the street.

If you work in a cube, the same rules apply, but you may have to be more visually demonstrative.  If you’re not to be disturbed, hang up a sign that says so.  Or run police tape across your cube entrance.

And if all else fails, work with your brow furrowed or your tongue sticking out.  If you look like you’re working hard, other people are less likely to interrupt you.

6. Ignore Your Phone.

If it’s important, they’ll leave a message that you can check when you have time.

If it’s really important, they’ll call back.  (And yes, if the same person is frantically dialing you over and over, that’s a sure sign that something else is about to become more important than whatever you’re currently working on.)

7. Make It Hard to Navigate to Websites Where You Routinely Waste Time.

If you can’t watch one YouTube video without viewing three more, leave your speakers off.

If you can’t tear yourself away from Farmville, don’t bookmark Facebook.

The act of having to turn on your speakers, or to physically type in the address of a website you know you shouldn’t be going to, is a subconscious reminder that you have more important things to do.

8. I’m cutting this list short because you have more important things to do.

Dig this blog? Subscribe and you’ll never miss a witty insight again.

  • Anonymous

    Got it. I find that I like to mix the small items with larger so the hour blocking assignment is critical for my daily sanity. I make sure to block some me/short-run tasks that will just languish. Sometimes they happen in the evening and sometimes they happen first thing, but it stopped me from stressing about a task list. This is one of my new favorite blogs.

  • Anonymous

    Got it. Love it. Tweeted it. Working on #4. Added “me time” my calendar today. Also stopped working at 4pm yesterday (I started at 6am) and went for a run. Win.nnThis post kicks ass.nn/end robot talknnDJ WaldownDirector of Community, Blue Sky Factoryn@djwaldow

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the shout out for u30pro. We’re always happy to have you join us.nnAll really great tips. A lot of it is mental for me. As I mentioned, I work from home and manage a completely remote team. The more organized I get, the more productive I get. Beyond that, it’s just about mentally setting myself to get shit done. There are days when procrastination gets the best of me.nnYou’re right…being in an office doesn’t mean you won’t slack and procrastinate.nnDavid, Scribnia

  • Anonymous

    WOW… I wish I would have seen this list of stuff 5 years ago! Great stuff… seriously its pretty amazing.

  • Anonymous

    Good list. I made one of my own for when I’m working from home:nnhttp://cad.cx/blog/2010/04/29/some-simple-rules-for-working-from-home/

  • Anonymous

    Got it. I find that I like to mix the small items with larger so the hour blocking assignment is critical for my daily sanity. I make sure to block some me/short-run tasks that will just languish. Sometimes they happen in the evening and sometimes they happen first thing, but it stopped me from stressing about a task list. This is one of my new favorite blogs.

  • Anonymous

    Got it. Love it. Tweeted it. Working on #4. Added “me time” my calendar today. Also stopped working at 4pm yesterday (I started at 6am) and went for a run. Win.nnThis post kicks ass.nn/end robot talknnDJ WaldownDirector of Community, Blue Sky Factoryn@djwaldow

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the shout out for u30pro. We’re always happy to have you join us.nnAll really great tips. A lot of it is mental for me. As I mentioned, I work from home and manage a completely remote team. The more organized I get, the more productive I get. Beyond that, it’s just about mentally setting myself to get shit done. There are days when procrastination gets the best of me.nnYou’re right…being in an office doesn’t mean you won’t slack and procrastinate.nnDavid, Scribnia

  • Anonymous

    WOW… I wish I would have seen this list of stuff 5 years ago! Great stuff… seriously its pretty amazing.

  • Anonymous

    Good list. I made one of my own for when I’m working from home:nnhttp://cad.cx/blog/2010/04/29/some-simple-rules-for-working-from-home/

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Justin Kownacki - 10 Ways to Reduce Distractions at Work -- Topsy.com

  • http://cad.cx Colin Dean

    Good list. I made one of my own for when I'm working from home:

    http://cad.cx/blog/2010/04/29/some-simple-rules

  • http://www.marketinghandy.blogspot.com/ Mike Handy

    WOW… I wish I would have seen this list of stuff 5 years ago! Great stuff… seriously its pretty amazing.

  • http://www.scribnia.com/author/show/473/david-spinks/ David Spinks

    Thanks for the shout out for u30pro. We're always happy to have you join us.

    All really great tips. A lot of it is mental for me. As I mentioned, I work from home and manage a completely remote team. The more organized I get, the more productive I get. Beyond that, it's just about mentally setting myself to get shit done. There are days when procrastination gets the best of me.

    You're right…being in an office doesn't mean you won't slack and procrastinate.

    David, Scribnia

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    Got it. Love it. Tweeted it. Working on #4. Added “me time” my calendar today. Also stopped working at 4pm yesterday (I started at 6am) and went for a run. Win.

    This post kicks ass.

    /end robot talk

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
    @djwaldow

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    Got it. Love it. Tweeted it. Working on #4. Added “me time” my calendar today. Also stopped working at 4pm yesterday (I started at 6am) and went for a run. Win.nnThis post kicks ass.nn/end robot talknnDJ WaldownDirector of Community, Blue Sky Factoryn@djwaldow

  • Pingback: 5 Things My Google Read Taught Me Today — August 17, 2010 « Waking Up Amy

  • http://www.sbmteam.com George Bounacos

    Got it. I find that I like to mix the small items with larger so the hour blocking assignment is critical for my daily sanity. I make sure to block some me/short-run tasks that will just languish. Sometimes they happen in the evening and sometimes they happen first thing, but it stopped me from stressing about a task list. This is one of my new favorite blogs.

  • Pingback: Waking Up Amy » 5 Things Google Reader Taught Me Today

  • Pingback: A Newbie's Guide to the Glorious Distraction of Turntable.fm / Justin Kownacki