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The phone never stops ringing, the co-worker next door never stops talking, and the boss never stops visiting your cluttered desk. If this describes your workplace environment, then you may have a problem with distractions. Too many distractions can lead to a loss of productivity and an increasing sense of frustration. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid distractions at work, at least the ones that prevent you from working at your best.
One way to avoid distractions is to take a personal inventory of all the existing traps and hazards you encounter in an average day. Begin with the commute into work. Are you arriving at work on time, or are others causing you to be chronically late? Are there co-workers or employers standing between you and your work area, eager to make small talk? Do you have a number of voice messages or emails awaiting immediate responses?
To avoid distractions that arise before you begin your actual work, you may have to readjust your morning schedule. If a carpool arrangement becomes unreliable, find another way to commute to work. Knowing you've arrived on time can cut down on the distraction of rushing through your pre-work routine.
Once you've arrived at work, keep moving deliberately to your desk. If people want to have a conversation, ask them to walk with you. Avoid making eye contact with especially chatty co-workers. You can still be polite without getting distracted by the water cooler gang.
Another way to avoid distractions at work is to set boundaries with family and friends. Personal phone calls and emails can become very distracting as the workday progresses. Whenever possible, inform your spouse, children, parents and best friends that your company frowns on too many personal calls. This policy may only exist in your busy mind, but it will help to reduce the number of outside distractions during work hours. Obviously, your family and friends may need to contact you for emergency reasons, but their definition of emergency may not necessarily meet your criteria. Make your outgoing calls during scheduled breaks or your lunch hour.
Some workers avoid distractions by setting up similar boundaries among co-workers. You may need to tell your work friends not to interrupt you between the hours of 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., for example, because you're on a tight deadline. If you remain polite but consistent, most co-workers should eventually get the idea. In order to avoid distractions such as casual conversations, it's important that you not be a distraction for others yourself. Save your own conversations for times when you are clearly away from your work area.
In a modern work environment, you can use technology to help avoid distractions. If you have voice mail capability, let the phone ring during busy times. For non-vital communications, provide clients with a fax number or email address. This should cut down on the number of distracting phone calls you receive throughout the day. You'll still have to deal with these messages, but at least you can respond at your own pace.
Many times, the best way to avoid distractions at work is to change your own focus. Try to tune out any distracting background noises, such as a blaring public address system or the noise of machinery. Eventually, you can train your mind to ignore most extraneous sounds. If your job requires attention to detail, work on developing a type of mental tunnel vision. Some work distractions are based on your own curiosity, so try to adapt a 'been there, seen that' attitude to remain on task.