So You're Distracted at Work: What's the Big Deal?

Most of us feel distracted at work.  Big time.

Whether it’s the inordinate amount of meetings or the myth of the “open door policy”, it’s getting harder and harder to focus.

I once worked with a woman who, without pay, would come in on Saturdays in order to get some peace and quiet (and to finish her work).

A priest friend of mine has the unfortunate situation of having his office just off of the main lobby.  To cope with the people who want to see him ALL THE TIME he just shuts his door when he needs to get work done.  As a complement, he will work from 6-8am when no one is around.

A brave approach but nuts nonetheless!

What have we done to our workplace that good women and men need to come in on Saturdays and work before dawn just to get some quiet space to think.

How about you?  Does your work barrage you with stupid meetings and more interruptions than you can deal with? 

I’m guessing your answer is yes.  It certainly was for me up until a recent job change.  If you’re a leader, it gets exponentially worse as everyone and their brother wants a piece of you, from the moment you step foot at work until you leave.

The bigger question though is this: what’s the big deal?  Come on Mike, so I’m distracted at work… isn’t that just normal?

My answer is part psychological- we have enough distractions in our own heads.  Think of the last time that you sat down to write or read something.  Tons of distractions!

We don’t need our workplaces adding on to that in-our-heads level of stress.

Another part of the answer is this: when we are distracted we don’t give our very best to those we serve.  This is easy to believe if you think of a surgeon.  Not being focused could lead to a snip here or a mistake there.  

Most of us will respond and say, “I’m not a surgeon or a pilot so I can afford a bit of distraction.”

No and no.

The cost of being distracted is huge.  It adds stress to our work.

It tires us out physically.

It lengthens our hours.

It puts stress on those we love.

It saps us of our confidence.

It prevents us from finishing things.

It burns us out.

When you look at it that way, distraction at work is a very big deal.  And, with some courage, now is the time to do something about it.  Unfortunately, the solutions are probably not going to come “from above”.  You and your peers will have to demand change “from below”.

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What might that look like?  I suggest three easy solutions:

1. No meetings prior to 10am.  Imagine if you had your most valuable hours without having to sacrifice them at the altar of meetings?  
2. One day per week without meetings.  This one is easy.  Just ask for one day per week without meetings.  
3. Close your door more often during the day.  Build-up-the-courage-and-close-your-door.  It’s both harder/easier than you think.

Being distracted at work is serious enough to worry about and important enough to challenge.  It will start with you and you can do it.


For Further Reading

Check out Cal Newport's piece about Facebook's massive office space that's scaring away workers who want to focus.