How to Quiet Workplace Distractions to Increase Employee Productivity

October 31, 2018

Category: HR Tips & Trends

learning to quiet workplace distractions and boost productivity

It seems that everywhere you look around the office, there is something to break your distraction. At work, there’s Slack, Jira, emails, and Confluence. Your friends and family text you all day. Your workflow is constantly interrupted by calls, push notifications, or conversations happening just outside your cubicle (or for those in open office floor plans– all around you). How are employees expected to get any uninterrupted work done with so many workplace distractions?

Let’s take a look at some of the distractions workers face today, and how to encourage employees and coworkers to decrease them. We’ll also discuss some ideas to help increase focus and boost productivity.

Common Workplace Distractions and How to Overcome Them

  • Smartphones: It is nearly impossible to resist the siren call of that phone in your pocket. If you get a text, Facebook notification, or phone call, it almost feels painful not to check it. Then once you respond, that leads to a back and forth that could suck away a lot of time. To avoid temptation, try putting your phone on “do not disturb.” You could even–gasp!–turn it off while you’re at work.
  • Emails: In many offices, employees have their email set up to notify them of each new message. When the notification pops up on your screen, you feel compelled to answer immediately. Try changing your settings so that push notifications are disabled. Then schedule a designated time of day to check your emails and respond to them.
  • Gossip: A juicy piece of gossip is tough to resist. Let’s face it, gossip is a lot more interesting than your expense report or any other spreadsheet you’re working on. But in addition to sucking away your time, it can really damage your work environment. (We shouldn’t have to tell you that nobody likes to be the subject of gossip, and there’s a pretty good chance that the news will spread around to EVERYONE in the office.) As tempting as it may be, stay out of the gossip until your shift is over. Or better yet, don’t engage in it at all.
  • Noise: More and more businesses are using an open floor plan today, which has its benefits. It can make your coworkers and managers more easily accessible and encourage teamwork. Unfortunately, it also comes with a lot of noise. With open office doors and centralized cubicles, workers can hear printers, phones, people walking by, and their coworker eating a crunchy snack next door. To keep the noise distraction to a minimum, try wearing noise-canceling headphones or earplugs.
  • Multi-tasking: Raise your hand if you think you can multitask! (We see your hand.) Yes, everyone thinks they can get away with this productivity killer. But the truth is, the human brain is not meant to complete more than one task at a time. Quit wasting time and stick to one task until it’s completed. We promise you’ll get more done this way.
  • Hunger: As we’ve discussed previously, eating a good balance of healthy foods can boost productivity by a lot. The flip side of that coin is this: Being hungry can make it really hard to focus on work. If your stomach is growling and all you can think about is the countdown until lunch, you need a snack.

The Pomodoro Technique

Still need some help managing workplace distractions so that you can concentrate on, you know, actual work? Try the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a method for time management that was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. With the Pomodoro technique, the worker uses a timer to break down their task into 25 minute intervals. The intervals are called “pomodoros,” and they are each separated by a short break.

(Fun fact: Cirillo named the intervals “pomodoros” because he used a tomato-shaped timer to track them when he was a college student.)

There are six basic steps to the Pomodoro Technique:

  1. Decide on your task.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  3. Work on your task until the timer rings.
  4. At the alarm, stop working and put a checkmark on a piece of paper. Cirillo recommends just plain old pen and paper for tracking pomodoros.
  5. If you have fewer than four check marks on your paper, take a 3-5 minute break. Then set your timer for another 25 minute working session.
  6. After four pomodoros, take a 15-30 minute break and return to step 1.

Most people who use this technique swear by it. There is an entire cottage industry of apps, timers, and trackers for this method of reducing workplace distractions and promoting productivity. But like we mentioned above, just plain pen and paper with a simple tomato timer work great.

It’s difficult to cope with distractions at work, especially in 2018. Texts, emails, tweets, smartphones, and the noise of open office floor plans are all competing for our attention. Try some of these suggestions today to encourage your coworkers and employees to quiet workplace distractions and boost productivity.


Nicole is a freelance writer specializing in health, mental health, and parenting issues. Her work has appeared in Today's Parent, Crixeo, Grok Nation, Chesapeake Family LIFE, and the Baltimore Sun, among others.

Category: HR Tips & Trends

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