Business Etiquette: Handling Office Distractions

03/09/2015 06:19 pm ET | Updated May 09, 2015

    Think of how productive we could be if it weren't for the many distractions buzzing around us in our workspaces. While we can't eliminate all of the things that interrupt us throughout the day, we can manage a surprising number of them. Here are some ways to help you stay engaged while sitting at your desk:

  • Close your email program. There's no faster way to break your concentration than to hear the little ding or see the notice pop up onscreen when an email lands in your inbox. No matter how trivial the message, just knowing a new email has arrived often draws your attention to it. Most of the time, you don't need to respond immediately. Stick to a schedule where you check and answer email once an hour (if that sounds impossible, start with once every 30 minutes and work up to an hour).
  • Simplify. Many of the gadgets, apps and devices that are meant to make work easier often contribute to being more scattered. For example, working with two computer monitors can create more opportunities to be pulled away. If you find yourself constantly checking the other screen or wandering from one site to read an interesting article in a separate window, consider whether you're working efficiently. I'm not alone, as shown in a study on multitasking from Stanford University. Researchers found that people who juggle multiple streams of information have difficulty focusing, remembering details and shifting gears from one task to the next. Interestingly, the study found that those who claimed to be great multitaskers actually fared worse on tests to remember and organize information than those who focused on one thing at a time.
  • Clear out the clutter. If your desk is covered with piles of papers, unread mail, day-old coffee cups or even too much personal memorabilia, you are putting yourself at a big disadvantage. Not only does it generate a chaotic work environment, but finding anything will take you much longer than it should. If you think you are too busy to clean off your desk, remind yourself of the time you currently waste looking for the things you need.
  • Quiet down. The sound of our voices travels, and whether you are talking about a project or where to go for lunch, chances are your conversation will be easily overheard by others. Even if you're not directly involved in a conversation, continued chatter prohibits you from concentrating. Be mindful of where you are talking. Don't stop to chat with a coworker right outside someone else's office, and use your door when appropriate. If you work in a cubicle where you're bombarded with noise, try earplugs, headphones or discuss other options with your supervisor.
  • Adjust the temperature. It's hard to concentrate when your office is notoriously too hot or cold. Be ready for any temperature by keeping an extra sweater at your desk or dressing in layers. A small fan or space heater may also help you control your environment.
  • Spare the speakerphone. Speakerphones should be used with discretion. If you prefer to keep your hands free while on the phone, invest in a headset that allows you to talk normally instead of taking calls on your speakerphone. This isn't just good manners, it also safeguards your privacy and that of your clients.
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