How to Focus on Your Job When Distracted by Co-Workers


One of the most common productivity tips given is to minimize if not eliminate distractions altogether. But what can you do when the largest source of distractions in your day are your coworkers?

Personal Solutions to Professional Distractions

  • Install privacy screens to segregate your work area from the general traffic flow. When the privacy screen is in place, you have indicated that you are working or not to be interrupted. This prevents casual drop in conversations and interruptions.
  • Turn on the music to drown out the noise. Use headphones to prevent your music from becoming an annoyance to others. Listening to music through headphones lets you focus on your own work and ignore the chit chat around you. However, this may not be a workable option for those that are on the phone often.
  • Keep your phone headset on even when you are not on the phone. Others will assume you are on a call and have greater discretion before interrupting you.
  • Give yourself set break times in break areas. Relax and chat at those times. Then, when you return to your desk, work. Make it clear to people who use chatter to distract themselves from work that you will talk to them about non-work matters during those break times.
  • When someone drops by to talk about a personal matter, tell them that you would love to discuss the matter, but at the next break time or lunch time.
  • Is someone constantly coming by to talk when they are bored? The next time they drop by because they need something to do, tell them they are working and free to help. Then give them tasks within their skill set to do. If they need productive work, you have given it to them. If they are dropping by to avoid their own work, they will no longer bother you in their quest to avoid work.
  • Are the interruptions due to a constant stream of questions? Is the new intern or new employee asking you questions on how to do their job? Bring this up to their manager or mentor and ask that they be properly trained.
  • Are other employees you questions about company procedures or software? Find out the correct website, phone number or help desk personnel to direct them to if questions arise.
  • Limit the number and duration of meetings so that people constantly interrupt each other to get their problems resolved in the limited actual work time they have.

Workplace Solutions to Keep Your Attention on the Job

  • Has your workplace developed a pernicious gossip culture? If talking about others or playing Public Relations with your workplace reputation is taking time away from work, talk to Human Resources or management. A no-gossip policy for the workplace may be in order.
  • Is the chatter due to poor communications from management? At the next team meeting, bring up the constant chatter or “grapevine” as a problem. Ask management to address existing rumors or speculations in an open forum.
  • Propose that management develop more open communications with employees so that time isn’t taken up wondering what is going on.
  • If the gossip occurs because there is not enough work to do, do not simply state that there is not enough work to do. This can lead to layoffs. Instead, bring the team together and brainstorm projects the group can do. Consider working on xix sigma projects, lean manufacturing initiatives or catching up on mandatory training. Alternatively, if work is light for the whole team, start scheduling vacations for a day or an afternoon on a voluntary basis. This ensures that those who want to use paid time off have the opportunity while leaving those in the workplace with more work to do.