Productivity Experts Nail Down the Top 8 Office Distractions that Ruin your Workday

The whole point of coming in to the office is to get work done – that’s a no-brainer. However, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s come in with great intentions, then left after 8 hours feeling dissatisfied and unproductive.


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Sometimes sitting down and finishing off that report or starting that blog article feel like Sisyphean tasks, especially when it feels like the world is conspiring against you. The modern workplace seems geared towards distraction, so what are the worst culprits, and how do we eliminate them? Here are the top 8 office distractions that kill your productivity, and expert advice on how to avoid them:

office distractions noise

1. Noise

The open plan office design was initially lauded as a productivity boosting, team-building revolution in office planning. While being able to see and speak to your team easily certainly fosters a great sense of comradery and makes group work easier, it’s nearly impossible not to be distracted by the increased ambient noise. Phones ringing, people chatting, copiers printing and coffee machines buzzing all add to the inevitable background buzz, and according to a Cornell study, even these low-level noises can result in higher levels of stress and lower levels of motivation.

The solution? If you need to focus, invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, or scope out a quiet space in the office (if you’re lucky enough to have one). Unused meeting rooms or even outdoor spaces are excellent places to get away from the noise: Natalie Barker at The Startup Garage notes “Our CEO actually built an outside work station to combat this issue — that way we can get a change of environment, as well as step away from the distractions and get some Vitamin D!”

If you’re going the headphones route – pay attention to what you’re listening to. A ResearchGate study found that 48% of participants listed intelligible noise (people talking, songs with lyrics) as the most distracting sound. If this kind of noise affects your productivity, Ahmed Khalifa from IgniteRock suggests listening to ambient sounds or music. He points to a study by the Acoustical Society of America that shows “listening to ambient noise is the creative sweet spot and can improve listeners’ ability to concentrate.” Apps like Noisli or Brain FM can help you mask the office buzz.

office distractions internet

2. The Internet

While access to the internet is naturally a huge benefit to the modern workplace, it is also one of the worst distractions. It’s really really hard not to get distracted by the constant flow of new content, interesting research, emails, news, debate, let alone the constant ping of social media. The 2015 annual Internet survey found that 68% of people are distracted by the Internet at work, and of those, 39% admitted it cost an hour or more of their day.

The solution? Don’t switch off entirely, but keep use of social media and email to a minimum. Maura Thomas, TEDx Speaker and founder of Regain Your Time suggests that you “eliminate tech distractions. Work with your email in offline mode, set your phone to “do not disturb” and switch off app notifications.” If you don’t have Twitter open on a tab and your phone buzzing away at your deskt, you won’t be as tempted to check back.

office distractions temperature

3. Temperature

Temperature can have a surprisingly strong effect on productivity. A study by the Journal of Public Affairs, Administration and Management found that of all studied factors, temperature affects productivity the most and that even a little irregularity in temperature affected productivity.

A Cornell University study found that increasing the temperature of the workplace from 68 to 77 degrees (20-25 Celcius) caused typing output to increase by 150%, and errors to decrease by 44%. Another study, however, found that temperatures higher than 75.2 F caused a loss in performance. Both studies were small, and are seemingly contradictory, but there’s still something to learn.

For your most productive work, keeping to a stable, balmy 70-75 F (that’s around 21-23 C) should keep you in peak productivity mode. Not to mention you’ll never have to fight over the thermostat again!

office distractions hunger

4. You’re hungry

Ever tried to get anything done on an empty stomach? It doesn’t seem like it could be that much of a distraction, but an empty stomach, and thus lower blood glucose levels, have been shown to increase the level of distraction workers are susceptible to. Distractions continue to increase in frequency and severity until blood sugar levels return to normal. In fact what you eat at work is so important that, according to data released by the WHO, adequate nutrition can raise productivity levels by 20 percent on average.

The team at Joosr found that being hungry was one of the main distractions at their office too. Digital marketer David Tabor says they bring fresh fruit to the office each morning to combat this. The key is to eat high protein, low carb foods that’ll keep your blood glucose level steady – no post-donut sugar crashes!

office distractions multitasking

5. You’re multitasking

In the modern workplace, multitasking is often seen as a skill worth learning or an ability to boast about. However, recent research shows that it is actually highly detrimental – not only to your productivity, but also to your health. Constantly adding new tasks to your list is highly distracting, and working on multiple tasks is the antethisis to productivity. The lack of focus means that you actually spend more time on each task – finding where you left off, getting back into the flow etc.

Productivity and time management consultant Gregory Serrien agrees: “The #1 worst distraction for almost all of us is ourselves!” He suggests to “focus on the task at hand and complete it correctly the first time, then move on to the next task. You and everyone around you will be amazed at how much work you start getting done.”

Sarah Lisovic at CIA Medical suggests “Keep a list: When tasks begin to pile up and turn overwhelming, keeping a schedule, list, or breakdown of tasks is one of the best things to do. Keeping in mind that each task must be performed one step at a time debunks the unbearable nature of the chaotic work flow.”

office distractions helping coworkers

6. Co-workers keep asking for help

Like multitasking, helping others out feels productive, and in a way it is – for the people you’re helping. While it feels good to say ‘yes’ to everything, you’re distracted from your own tasks while others have delegated to you. They now have time to focus, while you’re mired in their dirty work. If you often find yourself in this position, but can’t quite say ‘no’, try teaching instead. Explain that you’re happy to show them how to do it themselves, but that this is a one-off and that you have to focus on your own work.

Alex Bar at Megapolis Movers says “the solution is to suggest the employee that has questions to accumulate them and get the answers during the dedicated meeting. It will give them time to solve the issue themselves and allow the seniors to complete their tasks.”

office distractions chatter

7. Office chatter

Office life is busy – Researchers at UCI found that office workers are interrupted every 11 minutes on average. The average worker has to deal with phone calls, walk-ins, unplanned meetings and chatty colleagues. 40% of people say they’d get more done if co-workers would stop coming by to chat. According to Maura Thomas “Even if a colleague interrupts you politely, it’s still an interruption that hurts your productivity.”

Angie Stegall from Your Organized Guide, Inc. advocates “closing doors and posting signs, or in cubicle land, using signs with a barrier. The signs state the time frame needed for uninterrupted work (Do Not Disturb 1 – 2 pm)… With continuous retraining and reinforcement, the payoff is fewer distractions and an increase in productivity.”

But what can you do if you’re the one with the urge to get chatting? Maura Thomas recommends you “use a “Talk to” list to eliminate constant back-and-forth email chains and cut impromptu drop-ins. Rather than emailing [or talking] every time you think of something, create a “Talk to” list for that person. When you think of something you need to communicate, add it to the list.”

office distractions design

8. Office design

Given that most people spend at least 8 hours a day sitting at their desks, it comes as no surprise that the design of the workspace has a significant effect on health, comfort and productivity. A study by the Upjohn Institute found that receiving both a highly adjustable office chair and office ergonomic training led to “substantially reduced pain and improved productivity” amongst office workers.

Michael Heiligenstein at Fit Small Business says “There are a number of ways to approach this issue. First, find an office chair that’s built for long period of sitting. You can find plenty of options for under $200. Second, changing your desk setup. You want to be positioned correctly to where your knees and elbows are at right angles. Your monitor should be eye level as well. Raise your monitor up a bit, adjust your chair height, or install a keyboard drawer to make sure you are comfortable. These changes aren’t expensive and can boost productivity.”

Other research shows that the design and decoration can have a strong effect on productivity too: “90 percent of participants admitted that their attitude about work is adversely affected by the quality of their workplace environment.” The team at Joost recognized that “the general blandness of the room” was affecting their productivity, so they made efforts to decorate it nicely.


In the end, you are in charge of your own productivity – sure, some of these distractions are environmental and a little difficult to handle, but with these expert tricks you should be able to get into the zone in no time!

What do you find most distracting? Do you have an awesome solution to share? Let us know in the comments below! And as always, feel free to share!

Date: 29. Jul 2016
Author: Siobhan O'Rorke
Tags: Productivity

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  • C

    Lots of great ideas!! Many thanks.
    PS You can also use ear plugs for the noise.

    2016-07-29 18:41:24 | Cate Hardy

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