I have worked in a cubicle over 14 years. If there is anything that I have learned during these years is that if you let the distraction get you, you will
b) be stressed over by deadlines
c) feel lousy about yourself.
Therefore it is extremely important to understand the different levels of office distraction and how to prevent or handle those distractions in the first place.
#1 Colleagues stopping over at you
Let’s be honest – I have great colleagues and this has never been my problem. However, I know that this kind of distraction is real for some office workers.
For example, if you own a special skill or special knowledge – like, you know all the bells and whistles of Microsoft Office – it is quite possible that you become the go-to guy in your office when a Microsoft Office related problem comes up.
Although it may be flattering that people ask your help, it is distracting as well and you are not able to focus on your real work.
a) Talk to your boss about this situation and tell him/her that you are not happy with what is going on. Maybe your boss could offer you a solution to this problem you are having.
For example, he/she could send an e-mail to the personnel and remind them about the IT support policy of your company – that you are not the support person to handle these cases.
b) Advice people that you shouldn’t be interrupted or that you are handing out the advice at a certain time of the day. The idea is to teach them that you shouldn’t be interrupted all the time and if that is necessary, it should happen during a certain time of the day (after you have finished your high priority tasks).
c) More extreme way would be to start working remotely from your home. This cuts down the colleagues based interruption to zero. At the same time, it also cuts down the social moments with your colleagues too, so you should be aware of the downsides of this solution.
#2 Instant messaging
Instant messaging has entered the business environments too and even if it has benefits, it can become a nuisance too.
Just when you thought you could focus on your things, someone sends you an instant message, thus stopping you from working on your own stuff.
In fact, sometimes there may be multiple chat windows popping up at the same time and everyone is asking you questions on different topics.
a) Turn off the instant messaging. Although this is a radical thing to do, it also ensures that you are not interrupted.
b) Update your online status accordingly. Instant messaging applications have built-in statuses you can choose from and you can update the status to something that reflects your situation. However, the “stronger” the status is, the less likely someone is going to interrupt you.
For example, setting you online status manually to something like “Do not disturb” tells people, that you shouldn’t be interrupted – you are trying to focus on your work.
#3 Phone calls
Even if the instant messaging may not be available in your workplace, phones are. In fact, there are three different phone systems that I’m aware of and they all bring their own distractions with them: regular phones (land-line), cell phones and VOIP (Voice Over IP) phones.
a) Traditional phones and cell phones: Set up a voice mail and let you phone calls go into that. Let your caller know that you cannot answer the phone right now and that you will call back at a later time if it is necessary
b) Cell phones: Turn your mobile phone mute when you work. In fact, sometimes I might turn the phone upside down, because I’m not interrupted by the flashing screen of the phone (in the muted scenarios when someone calls)
c) VOIP: Now, depending of your system this procedure may be different that mine, but since the VOIP system I’m using is integrated to instant messaging application, I can control the status of my online presence and set the status to “Do not disturb” state.
This blocks the incoming call pretty effectively and when I’m ready to take calls again, I just set the status of my presence to “Online”.
#4 Overall noise
This is the most annoying part of any open office environment: the overall distraction. This can be caused by colleagues, fax machines, telephones or anything between.
Unfortunately, for the most parts this kind of distraction goes beyond your control (you can’t schedule it). However, there is still something you can do about it.
a) Book a meeting room. I have done this several times and it works. All the extra distraction is left outside the room and you can focus on your work.
b) Tell your colleagues to quiet down. Now, the important way here is how you say it. If you yell at them to shut up with a red face, you may be quieting them down. However, it may do more harm to your relationship with them than any good, so pay close attention to how you express yourself.
c) This is a bit counter-intuitive, but sometimes some distraction can actually help you to focus on your work. For example, listening to music is one of these ways and you are able to leave the distraction outside your headphones.
#5 Coffee breaks
Let’s face it – there is a place for coffee breaks and the idea is to stop working for a while and socialize a bit with your colleagues (located in the same office than you).
This brings the social depth to your work – it is not just sitting in front of the computer and maybe to talking someone on the phone or answering e-mails.
It also gives you the time to recharge your batteries – by discussing about something which is not work related.
However, coffee breaks bring distraction with them, and I would like to break this distraction into two levels.
First, there is the level of distraction you get, when a coffee corner is next to your work space. Second distraction can be, if your breaks are too long and they are eating up your working time.
a) If the coffee corner happens to be next to your work space, distractions are going to occur. And, when you are distracted and cannot focus on your work, it is time to ask you colleagues to quiet down
b) If the previous doesn’t work, you should talk about this to your boss. He/she is also responsible of your work conditions, so asking some help from him/her is definitely worth doing.
c) Change your work space location. If you still feel you are distracted, you should try to find a better work space location in your office – something which is farther away from the coffee corner.
d) When you colleagues ask you to have a coffee break with them, it is always possible to reject that request. If your schedule is so busy, that you cannot have a break, then it is OK to do so. Very likely your colleagues will understand this reason, because it might happen to them too.
e) If you decide to join a coffee break, it is your responsibility to leave the coffee corner, if you have some urgent stuff waiting for you. Again, I’m willing to bet that you colleagues will understand this, since the very same situation might happen to them as well.
This was the part 1 of a 2 part series related to office distraction. I figured that I might bring this topic up, since there are many people out there who have an office job (even if they are part-time online business builders on the side) and they want to get stuff done in office environment too.
The second part of this series is going to be published on September 26th, so stay tuned!
It’s your turn now!
- Which type of distraction annoys you the most (in office environment)?
- What tips do you have for handling these distractions I mentioned in this post?
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