How to Stay Focused at Work and Save Hours Every Day

December 5, 2016
Archived, Productivity

Do you know best how to stay focused at work? Sometimes, a little distraction can be welcome, if you’re stuck with a problem. You may return with fresh ideas and motivation to solve it. But when working on something important or when you just got into the zone, the last thing you need is a distraction.

Interruptions cost much more time than just that spent on handling them.

Research by the University of California-Irvine, published by the Harvard Business Review, states that it takes us 20 minutes to recover from an interruption.

This is because distractions inflict additional stress on us and leave us with less focus that can’t easily be caught up on.

And in the modern workplace, our concentration is under constant bombardment from computers, software, colleagues, and everything else.

20 minutes might not seem like a lot. But consider how many times per day we get interrupted by something or someone, and the hours soon start to add up.

So how on Earth can we stay focused at work? By eliminating stress-inducing, unproductive, and all-too-common distractions.


  • Make use of availability settings in messengers
  • Set fixed times to answer emails
  • In instant messengers, don’t drift off to chit-chat
  • Don’t schedule meetings, if there’s a better format for the matter
  • Don’t get sucked up by the internet and social media
  • Avoid multitasking
  • Provide for functioning hard- and software

Take Back Control of Your Communications

We live in a world of near instant communication and the expectation of instant replies and responses.

Speedy replies might be crucial depending on the situation, but it’s easy to get pulled into a cycle of expectation of instant response that always interrupt your workflow.

The key to office communication is to find the right format for the situation!

Don’t Be a Slave to The Phone

Phone calls still reign supreme as the go-to communication tool when you expect to communicate with someone immediately.

This also means it is likely to be the biggest threat to living a distraction-free working life.

Even if you don’t pick up the phone to speak – checking who is calling or simply hearing the ringtone is enough to distract your attention for a moment, pulling you into a 20 minute productivity ditch.

Thankfully – all it requires we do is to simply enable silent modes, voicemail, or blocking the receiving of calls altogether.

Manage Your Email Inbox More Effectively

What’s your estimation for how many emails you receive every day?

The Radicati Group carried out an extensive survey into email usage. They found business users sent and received 121 emails a day on average in 2014. And it’s expected to grow to 140 emails a day by 2018.

All too often we feel the need to open and read emails soon after they arrive. Yet what proportion of them are both important and urgent?

Apart from these exceptions, get in the habit of answering emails at fixed times each day.

For example, once in the morning, at or after lunch, then last thing in the afternoon.

You can also help out your colleagues by not sending them carbon copies of messages they don’t necessarily need to get.

The Proper Usage of Instant Messaging

Instant Messaging (IM) is more popular than ever.

The number of worldwide IM accounts is expected to reach over 3.8 billion by the end of 2019. Also, the business use of IM is now growing at a much faster rate than private use.

While it allows for a faster two-way communication than email and can be useful for group discussions, IM can also quickly become another source of distraction.

To prevent that, make use of it for short queries only and don’t drift off to chit-chat.

That might not be a problem for you, but if coworkers can’t get used to that you can alter you’re your availability settings.

Again, use silent mode, stop instant notifications or whatever suits you best.

Reduce the Number of Meetings

There’s a reason why there are so many memes online with the text “I just survived another meeting that should have been an email.”

Occasional meetings are important to give everyone an update.

They can also be more effective than written communication. Talking is the most instant communication you get.

Nevertheless, the bigger the meeting, the more time it takes and the more of a distraction it is from completing tasks on your to-do list.

Before just scheduling a meeting, first evaluate if it’s really the right format. They’re good for a quick exchange of questions and answers or presentations.

For sharing info that is unlikely to be commented on, better use another way of communication.

Keep Web Surfing Within Limits

You’re searching for something that is important and the next thing you know is you find yourself an hour later watching cat videos. Sound familiar?

Surfing on the internet and social media can eat up tremendous amounts of time and it’s tempting to have just another peek at something “really quick”.

There are web browser tracking programs such as Rescuetime which can help you here. These can help you monitor your Web surfing and limit your access to certain websites.

Of course, it’s also possible to override or disable them, so this solution does depend on you playing along, if you want to get a benefit from it.

Office Background Noise Can Be a Distraction

Undeniably, there are many good sides to open space offices, such as transparency, sociability and approach-ability.

The inevitable downside to that is more background noise, hampering your focus.

Luckily, there are some ways to encounter noise problems and work effectively in open space offices, e.g.

  • Headphones cancel out noise and make you look busy
  • Carpets, room dividers and plants make it comfier and reduce noise
  • With a laptop, take your work elsewhere from time to time
  • When everyone else is in the zone, try and get there as long as it’s quiet

Multitasking is a Myth

Are you trying to juggle too many tasks at the same time?

Ideally, we’d be able to devote our full attention solely to the one task at hand, but all too often in practice we don’t have much choice if e.g. a coworker needs help urgently.

Nevertheless, if you try to focus on more than one thing at a time, all tasks will suffer in quality, as real multitasking is just not possible for the human brain.

Is Your Computer Hardware Acting as A Brake?

Even though computers vastly increase overall productivity, they are the cause of many distractions when not functioning properly, thus getting in the way of your work performance.

Maybe your workstation takes ages to boot up, responds sluggishly when you’re working with large files, or suffers frequent breakdowns.

Make sure your computer is up to its tasks and upgrade the hardware if it’s not.

The same goes for optimizing your internet or LAN/WAN infrastructure.

Key Takeaways

You won’t be able to avoid every disruption that crops up, but hopefully you’ll now be able to handle them much better.

Remember that most emails and text messages don’t have to be answered instantly, but when it fits your workflow.

Contribute to fewer distractions in all of your work environment by not spamming coworkers in chats and email cc’s – this is of course not saying cut out all the fun, though.

Think about which format of communication is adequate for the purpose you have in mind. Not everything needs a meeting.

Also, a functioning computer and software will save you a lot of frustration and interruptions.


What do you think is the biggest source of distractions and what’s the best way to deal with it?

Drop your thoughts in the comment section below!

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