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Instant distraction killer

Are you spending more time dealing with emails, IMs, phone calls, and random stray files than actually working? You might think those things are just a fact of working in a fast-paced world. But it’s not.

Reducing and eliminating pesky distractions isn’t a feat, and you don’t need a 12-step program.

Here are ten actions you can do right now to kill distractions and get back to work:

  1. Put headphones on
    Wearing headphones is the universal sign for “do not disturb.” To make it obvious, choose big clunky ones instead of those tiny invisible earbuds. Get ones with noise-cancellation and you’ll have an instant sound booth. Even if you’re not listening to music, blocking out ambient noise will help you focus and stay on your tasks.

  2. Check email twice a day
    If your email program checks for new email automatically and periodically. Make it stop. Instead, manually check your email twice a day. Turn it into a ritual: check it once in the morning and once again in the afternoon. When you’re done, quit your email program and forget about it until the next scheduled email time. Don’t forget to turn off any background notification alerts or sounds you have running.

  3. Tell everyone
    To cut down the deluge of office emails, tell everyone in the office via email that you’re only checking email twice a day. This will train your coworkers to reconsider before sending you trivial messages. More importantly, you’re more likely to stick to your word if everyone knows about your email policy. For examples of what this email should look like, check out Timothy Ferriss’s post, How to Check E-mail Twice a Day… or Once Every 10 Days.

  4. Turn spam filtering on
    Even with legislation, spam is never going away. You can eliminate this major distraction by turning spam filtering on. I personally like server-side spam-filtering software such as SpamAssassin, because it catches spam before it even reaches my computer. If your company has an IT department, ask them about installing a server-side solution on your email servers. Otherwise, you can use Gmail as a spam filter for any email address.

  5. Banish Growl
    I’m not a fan of system-wide notification systems such as Growl. No matter how gentle Growl’s alerts are, they’re still tiny distractions forcing you to log and consider each alert in your mind. You don’t need random reminders to plague your mind while you’re trying to concentrate.

  6. Create IM office hours
    Ok, I admit it. I’m addicted to instant messenger like a yuppie to his crackberry. Ideally, I’d go cold-turkey and delete iChat altogether. But I do believe IM has useful benefits for collaboration and keeping in touch with faraway loved ones. So what should a boy like me do? Create IM office hours–short blocks of time where you’re available for chats. If you’re really clever, you can coincide your IM office hours with your daily email ritual. (This is gonna be the most painful for me to do, but it must be done.)

  7. Silence your phone
    Your mobile phone is an electronic dog leash. I’ll say it again. Your mobile is an electronic dog leash. Release yourself from phone slavery and turn off the sound AND vibrate when you’re working. You should also not check your phone messages and missed calls until you’re on a real break. Your phone is only convenient if you’re in control of it.

  8. Eat lunch out of the office
    Eating lunch in the office makes you wide open to interruptions. You’re more likely to get sucked into random meetings, phone calls, or office gossip. These interruptions are rarely emergencies and can wait until you eat your food. Avoid it all by eating lunch outside of the office. Go ahead, let yourself enjoy lunch away from work. Just don’t take your mobile phone.

  9. Become an early bird
    No one likes to come in early in the morning. Use this trend to your advantage, and arrive at work before everyone else. Why? Since no one is around, you’ll have fewer disruptions like phone calls, morning chatter, and office pitter-patter. You’ll get more done with greater focus. You’ll also reduce your risk of working a late night.

  10. Clear your desktop
    Having tons of icons and files littering your desktop is like having a million squawking baby birds begging for your attention… all the time. Clear your desktop now. While you’re at it, tidy up your real desk too.

If you liked this post, go ahead and bookmark it on del.icio.us. Thanks!

What are your favorite tips and tricks for eliminating distractions at work?


  • Vikas

    gravatarDec 30, 2007
    10:23 am

    Really good and sensible list, and I found it at the right time. I really needed this, thanks :). Although I don’t agree with number 8.

  • Antonia Winsor

    gravatarAug 29, 2008
    3:03 pm

    thanks for your observations I realize how my crastive time is being leached away by my servile attitude to my mobile phone

  • H2O

    gravatarDec 2, 2008
    9:14 pm

    Another tip: have two profiles on your computer. One for work, and one for fun. The work profile doesn’t have all your fun bookmarks you can waste time on. Your work profile just focusses on work. It gets you in the work mode too: your computer is “partitioned” between work and fun (distractions) – so you are less prone to procrastination.

  • Diamond Blade

    gravatarDec 9, 2008
    10:00 pm

    Plan your day ahead and try to mix enjoyable work in with the necessary-but-mundane work. If you’re bored or tired you’re far more likely to procrastinate. If you know you’re working on more fun stuff, it’s easier to get over the boring “hill” of work afterwards. Key thing is to concentrate and be disciplined to get through the more mundane tasks and avoid procrastination.

  • Who Is Banksy?

    gravatarDec 17, 2008
    8:35 pm

    The more boring the work, the more distractions there tends to be (now why would that be?). Solution is to make your work more interesting and you’ll find the distractions are less appealing.

  • Cherry Blossom

    gravatarFeb 16, 2009
    4:44 am

    Agree that work needs to be interesting to prevent distractions in the first place. Rotating jobs is a good way to keep things interesting.

  • Guiness Export Drinker

    gravatarFeb 27, 2009
    5:10 am

    I also work early and get everything I can possibly get done before midday. Then I feel less guilty about procrastinating in the afternoon. I don’t think procrastination is necessarily a bad thing as long as your aggregate amount of work you do in a day is acceptable. We aren’t meant to be super-productive (although that’s what we’re told we should be) but we need to find a way to be productive without it boring the pants off us.