It can be difficult to focus on work when your mobile’s ringing, new emails keep popping up, your work colleague keeps pestering you and your friend wants you to go for lunch. On top of that, you found a really interesting website which showcases a whole load of hilarious cat pictures. How ever will you be able to get any work done with all this going on? Damn cats.


Make a plan to minimize distractions


Pick your top two distractions and give two weeks attention to keeping them high on your radar and resolving them. “Create a strategy and keep honing it as you see what works and what doesn’t.” Make others aware of this plan too. If you are prone to self-distraction, ask a friend at work to have a designated check-in time each week to go over your progress. Letting others know about your strategy to minimize distractions will help you stay focused. Part of this plan can be:

Make a time diary


If you make yourself aware of the things that distract you from working, you can think in advance about strategies to deal with them. You could write a time diary of your day, writing down in 20 minute intervals what you are doing so you can see written clearly in front of you how you are spending your time. Work out where you’re wasting time and then eradicate these actions and replace them with something more productive. For this to work you have to write exactly what you were doing at that exact moment. For instance this is “Noel’s” time diary:

4:00 – re-arranging desk

4:20 – arranging interview with candidate

4:40 – looking at cat video

5:00 – sending cat video to colleague Andrew

5:20 – phone call to candidate

5:40 – emailing client back

6:00 – starting week report

6:20 – still doing week report

6:40 – going home


Noel was actually supposed to finish work at 6 but ended up kept behind because he hadn’t finished the weeks report. Looking back over his time diary he realised where he had wasted time. Re-arranging the desk was actually unnecessary and was basically just procrastinating and putting off arranging a meeting with someone who he didn’t like. The cat videos (as funny as they were) were a definite unneeded distraction and they were probably the main reason Noel had to stay behind. But because of this time diary he learned from his mistake and next time a funny cat video pops up he will simply save it in his bookmarks to watch at a later date.



Limit technology interruptions


Even more distracting than funny cat videos are technology interruptions. Spending a few minutes each day checking personal e-mail, handling an online bank transfer or texting is not a problem, but doing any of these in excess will distract you from your work. Think about setting aside a couple of set times during the day to do these things. Reserve personal calls for dinner time and remember to turn off text alerts because even if you aren’t checking them that constant vibrating could still distract you or another colleague (and severely do their head in.)


Organize your workspace to minimize visual distractions


Have a tray for incoming work and keep only the project you are working on now in front of you. If your workspace tends to the chaotic it may be a sign that you are a visual organizer and the common organizing tips won’t work for you. Also, if there are bits all over the place and your folders aren’t organised you could potentially waste a lot of time looking for a document.


Make time to reflect


Take time at the end of the day to reflect on what you did and what you want to focus on tomorrow. Write your priorities for the next day and review your list when you come in.


And to finish off, just a couple of things you should avoid:


Caffeine! It might wake you up now but when the inevitable crash comes you will only feel groggy and become more distracted. Stress! This can make somebody very distracted and irritable but dealing with stress is a whole other blog post in its self. (Next weeks?)


And cat videos. Stop watching cat videos.

Tom Duffy