Distractions at work: Helpful hints to keep you concentrated

Man at desk drinking coffee and working on his laptop

Your colleagues are talking loudly about their weekend. Your boss “just has a quick question”. The washing machine cycle is finished. Your smartphone vibrates every few minutes, amid a continuous trickle of e-mails. Oh, and you still haven’t got round to hoovering up the crumbs from breakfast. Whether you are in a meeting, working from home, sharing an open-plan office or have an office all to yourself, there is never any shortage of distractions at work. Here are a few ideas about how to keep interruptions to a minimum. 

Various studies attest that employees get interrupted in their work every three minutes. All too often, that puts paid to their concentration: It can take as long as 23 minutes to refocus on what they were actually trying to do. While distractions at work are not a new phenomenon, a recent Statista survey confirms that the problem is getting worse. Only 12 percent of respondents said they never get distracted from their job. In contrast, 64 percent waste up to 30 minutes a day due to interruptions. 10 percent put the figure at over an hour. 

Harnessing the benefits of interruptions 

Not every distraction automatically harms your productivity, though. It is generally recognised that employees usually work faster if they know in advance that an interruption – such as a telephone conference or meeting – soon awaits them. Moreover, occasional diversions such as surfing the ‘Net boost creativity and break up people’s routine. If that makes employees feel more satisfied, it will have a positive impact on their work. On the other hand, an accumulation of disagreeable disturbances can drive up stress levels, causing motivation and concentration to suffer. 

Suggestions for better concentration and attention  

Concentrated work involves focusing your full attention on a particular task. That might not sound very hard but is in fact quite a feat. Why? Because the human brain is constantly exposed to new sensory stimuli and actually craves them. That is why a high level of concentration can usually be upheld only for a period of about 90 minutes. That said, there is clear evidence that a few preparatory arrangements can help our grey matter work more efficiently:  

  • Deep and sufficient sleep (at least seven hours) helps the brain to “clear away” each day’s superfluous information.  

  • Healthy eating boosts our ability to think. Heavy, fatty food is not recommended, because the body then devotes its energy to digestion. Salads, fish and nuts are better options. It is also vital to remain well hydrated: Too little fluid can cause headaches and erode your concentration.

  • A clear structure is useful: Check and answer your mails only at set times when it best suits you; plan your meals.  

  • A regular routine is nice but can quickly become monotonous. It is better to map out two or three different daily routines for your working week.  

  • Minimise disrupting factors: If you need a quiet working environment, put your smartphone in flight mode or deactivate push messages.  

  • Regular breaks help you recharge your batteries – whether you do a few exercises, enjoy a coffee with colleagues, take a power nap or go for a walk around the block.  

  • In emergencies: A sugary treat now and then raises your insulin level, causing your brain to produce serotonin and thus stimulating your motivation centre.

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