How to Focus at Work and Manage Distractions

Having trouble figuring out how to focus at work? It’s difficult to remain engaged and productive at work if you face incessant interruptions. Unfortunately, dealing with on-the-job distractions is a constant part of every creative professional’s day.

In fact, advertising and marketing executives interviewed by The Creative Group said the longest they can work on a single task without being disrupted is just 30 minutes, on average. They also revealed their top five distractions:

  1. People stopping by (27%)
  2. Phone calls (26%)
  3. E-mail alerts (19%)
  4. Instant messages/text messages (10%)
  5. Social media (8%)

Check out “More Than Meetings: Finding Time to Work at Work.”


If you frequently find that your ability to concentrate (or stay on schedule) is derailed by chatty colleagues or pinging pieces of technology, consider these tips to help you get back on track:

Sign out. Yes, in general, it’s important to be accessible to your co-workers. But design requires focused thinking, which is often aided by a degree of peace and quiet.

When you’re up against a tight deadline or working on a crucial assignment, curtail interruptions by closing your door or hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign outside your workspace. It’s a simple but effective approach. That said, keep in mind your request will lose impact if your sign is posted at all times.

Take tech timeouts. Keeping a constant vigil on your e-mail and voice mail can distract you from more pivotal and pressing duties. Try to get out of the habit of reading and responding every time a new message pops up.

Instead, schedule periods throughout the day when you can focus exclusively on your messages. Or, if your role requires constant connectivity, replying right away to top-priority messages only will help prevent you from losing too much momentum.

Tame talkative colleagues. Every office seems to have at least one person who loves to corner co-workers in the break room or stop by unannounced to shoot the breeze. A social butterfly might mean well, but the person can consume a lot of your time if you’re not careful.

When you encounter this individual, the best approach is to be tactful but direct: “I’d really love to talk, but I need to finish a design brief for a client now. How about we catch up at lunch?”

Stop cyberslacking. Many distractions are self-inflicted. The “harmless” 10 minutes you spend here and there surfing the web or clicking around Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest adds up over the course of a day.

While taking the occasional mental break and pausing to look up something online is part of modern-day work life, save the majority of your blog reading and tweeting for home.

Finally, at the end of each day, take some time to identify and write down the next day’s tasks, ranking them in terms of importance and urgency. Set some self-imposed deadlines and refer to the prioritized to-do list periodically throughout the day. Being highly organized and disciplined will help you target your efforts appropriately and manage distractions when they inevitably arise.

Check out these resources to help you focus at work and at home: