How Much Do Workplace Distractions Cost?

Dec 17, 2013

Meetings, chatting co-workers, incessant phone calls, overflowing inboxes with emails… We are all familiar with these workplace distractions. While we all know how annoying they can be, these seemingly small issues can lead to some big costs.

According to research sponsored by, a software development company, distractions cost businesses $10,375 per person, per year. Where does this cost come from?

The research showed that 33% of employees had difficulty working and producing because of workplace distractions and 25% had no time to think deeply or creatively due to them.

One in five workers found distractions caused information overload and 1 in 10 missed deadlines because of them.

Five percent of employees even identified distractions as the reason for lost business and angry customers.

With distractions causing this many problems in the workplace, what can you do to reduce their impact on your day?

Here are five tips to move you from distracted to productive:

1. Reduce, Not Eliminate

You are never going to be able to eliminate every distraction in your day. You just don’t have that much control. There will always be chatty co-workers and meetings that you have to attend. Trying to eliminate things you have no power over will just lead to more frustration. However, you can work on reducing the distractions within your control.

Turn off attention-demanding applications and devices like cell phones, instant messaging and email reminders so you can concentrate on one task at a time. You can also try shutting your office door for short periods of time or putting up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your cubicle to show co-workers you need some uninterrupted time.

2. Practice Deliberate Focus

Multi-tasking can be great, but it doesn’t work well when you need to concentrate and focus on difficult tasks or ones that require creativity. At the beginning of the day, make a list of the most important things you need to accomplish and do them first, one at a time. If possible, try to accomplish one important task before you even look through your email in the morning.

3. Say No

An overflowing plate can make it difficult to focus on any one thing for an extended period of time. It’s important that you learn to say no to tasks that you can’t handle or that will shift your focus from important things you need to accomplish.

If it’s not necessary for you to sit in on a meeting, say no. If a co-worker asks you to review something and you just don’t have the time, try to suggest someone else who could help them.

4. Not All Days are Equal

We all have some days of the week, or even times of the day, that are more productive than others. Maybe it’s because there are fewer people in the office on Tuesdays or you have more energy in the afternoons, either way, try to pay attention to these times. Start tracking which days and which times of the day allow you to accomplish more quality work.

Once you know your productive times, plan to do your most important tasks or work that requires the most concentration during them.

5. A Change of Environment

Sometimes a change of environment can help you eliminate distractions. If you work in a cubicle or an open floor plan office where distractions naturally brew, try scheduling some time in an empty conference room or even borrowing a co-workers office for a few hours while they are out.

If this isn’t possible, headphones can go a long way to blocking out noise and helping you concentrate.

Sometimes it’s the environment itself that is distracting, such as drab surroundings or poor lighting. If this is the case, try bringing in personal touches to your desk such as family photographs, artwork, plants and a nice lamp.

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