Hold The Phone: Avoiding Workplace Distraction (And 3 Apps To Help You Do So)

Hold The Phone: Avoiding Workplace Distraction (And 3 Apps To Help You Do So)

Staying productive in the face of workplace distractions

Living in a world where all information is at your fingertips, it can be easy to tell yourself that a quick check of your phone or quickly browsing a myriad of other non-work-related websites is not a workplace distraction. We tell ourselves that checking Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram will only take a minute and before we know it, we’re down the rabbit hole and it’s already time for lunch. Even checking our own email sounds productive, but the way we do so can be anything but. Faster internet speeds and device responsiveness leave us further deluded from the fact that we’re still wasting work hours. How do we stand a chance of staying productive in the face of so many technological workplace distractions? More than a matter of willpower, we must see the clear delineation between what is a workplace distraction and what is a tool for getting work done — what is essential and what is essentially a waste of time.

Is work email your biggest workplace distraction?

checking email

While most business happens at the speed of email these days, the way we check email can make it into one of the most underestimated workplace distractions. It sounds counterintuitive but the act of dropping everything to respond to one email notification is tremendously inefficient. Not only are you halting an existing activity to check a single email, but few of us can instantly get into the right frame of mind to address the context of the email and then quickly return to the task at hand without missing a beat. Just like the results of a drag-race can be impacted by how much time a driver spends between shifting gears, so is one’s productivity and focus decreased by shifting the mind from one task to an email and back. The fix? Shift less. How can a Tesla PD S1000 keep up with a Lamborghini Aventador off the line? The Tesla’s electric motor doesn’t waste a moment shifting gears. Instead of checking your inbox with every Pavlovian notification chime, set aside parts of the day when you check your email. Make sure to let your team know your reasoning so they know why it took you two hours to reply to their email. Possibly arrange for another form of communication for requests that require a more immediate response.

Multitasking — the ultimate workplace distraction.

multitasking man in suit phone laptop glasses beard

We’ve all had that moment of driving down the road while talking to someone on the phone only to arrive at our destination and recall very little about the drive itself. Did I roll through that red light? What was the color of the car I followed the entire way? This is a condition called “Inattention Blindness.” In a University of Utah study conducted in 2009, researchers concluded that when someone is engaged in a cell phone conversation they are far less likely to retain pertinent details about things they observe while driving or remember information they were told while distracted.

“Our research examined the effects of hands- free cell-phone conversations on simulated driving. We found that even when participants looked directly at objects in the driving environment, they were less likely to create a durable memory of those objects if they were conversing on a cell phone.”

While some unfocused work can happen in the state of Inattention Blindness, the chances of quality work being accomplished while maintaining a conversation are slim. Like mentioned above, constantly shifting gears takes time and most minds do not have the mental bandwidth to process essential information simultaneously in an efficient manner.

Avoid workplace distraction by blocking out time.

calendar saturday block out time scheduling

How does one fight the temptation to constantly interact? One method is to “block out” or schedule out your day by a specific time period. Make sure to do absolutely nothing besides those tasks during that period of time. Put your phone in your desk drawer and close out all social media windows. This will allow a block of time for strict focus on a singular task at hand. While it may feel like only working on one task at time limits how much you can accomplish, focused work generally pays off with higher quality work in less time. Working for 55-minute periods without “checking in” garners better work. Supplementing the last 5 minutes by fulfilling your need to check in on social media or your email inbox will then act as the break and incentive you need to recharge your batteries for another productive hour. In this way, what was once a workplace distraction is now an incentive to complete a task. The 55-minutes-on/5-minutes-off model is not written in stone, but can instead be used as a goal for productivity. It may help to start with 45 minutes on, 15 minutes off and work your way up as your focus and productivity increases.

Bonus: Since the publication of this article, we have created a comprehensive guide to time blocking.

Apps to Avoid Workplace Distraction

Some of us possess the willpower to keep our nose to the grindstone and avoid workplace distractions. The rest of us could use a little bit of help. Here are a few applications to help you avoid workplace distractions. Disclaimer: Make sure the tools themselves don’t become a workplace distraction!

  1. RescueTime 
    In the same way a product like Mint helps track how you’re spending you’re money, RescueTime helps you determine how you’re spending your time online to help with time budgeting. After installing the application on your desktop and mobile device, you can later get a bird’s eye view of how you spend your time online. The results may shock you! It’s free to get started along with a 3-month report. After that, it’s just $4.50 a month or $36 a year to stay on top of your game.
  2. Freedom
    While the name sounds counterintuitive, the results truly will set you free to accomplish your goals. Freedom is an application that allows you to set schedules for when the program will block you out of certain websites, applications, and programs. Customize your experience by choosing exactly what you want to be blocked when you want it blocked in order for you to get stuff done. The application only cost $29 a year or $129 forever.
  3. Forest
    What if you could turn productivity into a game? With the mobile app Forest, staying focused on the task at hand maintains a digital tree. The more you progress, the more you can build out a digital forest. The less you accomplish, the worse off your forest becomes. It sounds silly, but for the visually stimulated who want to make even mundane tasks a little more fun, this may pique some interest. A unique part of Forest is that you can play against your friends and co-workers to see whose forest yields the most growth. The application is only $1.99 in the iTunes App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

Carry it out.
What is the essential aspect of avoiding workplace distractions? Follow through. You can install every application, block out every minute on a planner, or plan on locking your phone in a drawer — if you do not follow through on the plan that you feel will work best for you, it will remain nothing more than a plan.


If you want to take your newly established attentiveness to a new job or apply these skills to IT training, OakTree Staffing & Training can certainly help you do so.
Learn more about OakTree

Ken Lane

Ken Lane has been the Content Marketing Strategist for OakTree Staffing & Training since 2014.

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