Have you ever looked back at your workday, wondering where the hours went? Chances are, like most people, your productivity was sabotaged by a barrage of distractions.

People switch activities roughly every three minutes, and are interrupted every 11 minutes, according to research conducted by Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of California-Irvine. Once distracted, it takes approximately 23 minutes for people to return to the task at hand — if they do at all. In many cases, people abandon the task and simply move on to something else.

Don’t be so quick to blame email and social media. Multitasking, noise and even hunger are just a few of the other endless culprits. It’s no wonder we struggle to get things done!

Avoiding all distractions might be impossible, but there are things you can do to stay on task and minimize interruptions. While working with a career coach can help you develop strategies tailored to your specific job or situation, following are three steps you can take to minimize interruptions and maximize productivity.

3 Steps to Minimizing Workplace Distractions

1. Recognize your distraction triggers — Some workplace interruptions are bound to be universally disruptive; it would be pretty tough for even the most focused worker to ignore the sound of a jackhammer in the office parking lot. But some people are better at filtering noise — even the “noise” inside their heads — than others. We often ask our career coaching clients to think about what tends to throw them off course in a given work day. Is it a ringing phone, a chatty co-worker, clutter, getting up from your desk too often, or thinking about all the errands you need to run during your lunch hour?

2. Be proactive — For each type of distraction, think about what you can do to manage it — ahead of time. Create routines that enhance your productivity: Take time at the beginning and end of the day to organize your priorities and your workspace. Silence your phone —including text and email notifications — during certain periods of the work day, refill your water bottle before you sit down to work, create a to-do list on paper or on your phone so that your errands are no longer dancing around in your head.

Sometimes limiting distractions is as simple as closing tabs on your computer browser — not only a practical strategy (if the tab isn’t open, it’s less tempting to check Facebook), but also one that serves to declutter your computer workspace.

3. Set boundaries — One strategy we recommend to our career coaching clients is to establish boundaries with space and time. Make it clear to co-workers when you are in your “work zone.” This might involve turning your back to your cubicle opening and wearing headphones (even if you are not listening to music). It might even include explicitly requesting distraction-free time by hanging a sign outside your cubicle. If you have an office door, close it when you’re working on tasks that require high levels of concentration. Telecommuters need to be particularly vigilant about setting limits on their time and work space, which may seem clear to them, but fuzzy to kids, pets and even friends and extended family members.

It’s OK to set boundaries for clients, too, particularly if you’ve given them your cell phone number. Depending on your line of business, you may need to gently let your clients know that you will return phone calls and emails only during specific business hours.  

By taking a few steps to minimize the distractions in your workday, you’ll be amazed by not only how much faster you accomplish the tasks on your plate, but also by the enhanced quality of your work.   

What strategies have you found helpful in minimizing distractions at work?

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