Are Distractions Killing Your Productivity?


A recent HBR article addressed the topic of coping with the overwhelming amount of distractions we are bombarded with on a daily basis. The world is getting louder every day and without any strategies to limit the distractions, they will wreck the schedule of even the most well-intentioned productive individuals, including you!

Recent studies show the average person is distracted or interrupted every 40 seconds when they are working in front of their computer. And, even if you don’t work in front of a computer screen there’s a good chance the smart phone in your pocket is pinging or vibrating at rate not far off that pace.

In addition to the constant 40 second interruptions there’s also the research that shows once you’re off track, it can take over 20 minutes to return to the same level of focus. This combined data implies we’re all working in a challenging environment.  It’s nearly impossible to do anything with 100% laser focus. And that “deep concentration switch” you used to be able to flip on at will, to tackle those important projects, is nowhere to be found. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone!

Why are we so susceptible to these interruptions? Our brains are wired to be alert to distractions especially when it registers as something important.  When that happens, your brain releases dopamine, the chemical that is usually tied to pleasure. You get rewarded for paying attention to the distraction – which keeps you wanting to go back for more.  In that way, a single distraction can compound itself and cause a huge disruption.

What can you do?

The first thing you need to do is set some basic parameters up that limit your interruptions. There are apps you can turn on to limit incoming traffic, but one that I have found to work really well and it’s on virtually every tablet, smartphone, or laptop is simply turning on Airplane Mode.

What’s great about airplane mode is you don’t have to clutter your device up with another app, it’s already there and it’s probably in an easy to access drop down menu.  Plus, the airplane mode was incorporated into your device from the design stage; it’s meant to be there. 


Manage your working environment. Recently there has been a bit of a shift away from the effectiveness of the open working environments. If you do work in an open environment, it exposes you to potentially unlimited interruptions from co-workers.  Consider developing a visual method to let others politely know you’re currently in a “Do Not Disturb” mode.  Maybe a simple Red Dot on a laminated card, that’s visible when someone approaches you?


Time block. We mention this often, but it is so true. In fact, we just referenced this with a client this past week. If you want to get something done more quickly or hold yourself accountable to doing something in a specific time frame, create deadlines, block out specific times to work and hold yourself accountable to those time limits. You will be blown away by how much more you can get done.


Control the reward games you play with yourself. The dopamine chemical isn’t going away. So you may as well embrace it. One way to is give yourself a small reward when you complete a project or reach the end of scheduled time block. Block 15 minutes to surf on-line to your heart’s content, enjoy one of your favorite snacks, or simply step away from your work for few minutes to clear your head and recharge.


What about you? Are you finding it harder today to complete your tasks without distractions? Have you tried any of these strategies we suggested above? What strategies do you use in your business to help you and your team stay productive and limit distractions?

As always we value your comments in the space below.

Chris Steinlage  Kansas City Business Coach