Dealing with distractions when you work

dealing with distractions when you workAre you in control of your interruptions or do they control you? Are you unable to focus on the tasks you should be doing and instead, you are letting interruptions to run your day? If this is the case, you should learn how to schedule your interruptions – instead of them scheduling your life.

Why distractions are bad?

The biggest downside of distractions is that they are stopping you then, when you are focusing on your important tasks.

Even worse, you could be in your flow state while working and you are being stopped by an external distraction. For example, this could be like a cell phone ringing, while you are writing a chapter to your up- and-coming e-book.

Another major problem with distractions is that once you stop doing something important, it takes time to get back into the original groove.

For instance, when I worked as a software developer and I was interrupted, it took me 10-15 minutes to get back to the level of focus where I was before the interruption.

Finally, distractions are preventing (or delaying) your important work, which puts much greater pressure on you to finish your task in a timely manner.

Distractions are preventing (or delaying) your important work

The benefits of being in control of your distractions

The biggest benefit of scheduling your interruptions is that you get work done. When you are focused on your work without interruptions, the task you are doing gets all your attention and it will be done much faster.

Another benefit is that you feel good about your accomplishments. If you finish yet another task off your task list, you feel good about yourself and the work you have done.

However, if you are frequently distracted, you may feel that your task is not going to be ready, because you don’t have any time to focus on it.

Third benefit is that you know you are closer to your goal. Especially if the task you are doing is related to a personal goal of yours, it encourages you to work forward and finally cross the finish line.

For example, if you were able to finish yet another chapter of your e-book uninterrupted, you know that you will quickly finish the e-book project, if you can work interrupted.

You feel good about your accomplishments, because you weren’t interrupted

Two types of distractions

There are two kinds of distractions: internal ones and external ones.

The external distractions are for example phone ringing, an arriving e-mail message, an instant message that is popping up on your screen or your colleague (if at corporate environment) or your family member (if at home) trying to communicate with you. These kinds of interruptions can be scheduled to some extent.

The trickier ones are those interruptions that happen inside your head. This could be for example a new idea popping into your head while you are in the middle of a writing session.

How to schedule your interruptions?

External interruptions

When the external interruptions involves technology, you can pretty much go “offline” while you work.

For instance, turning the cell phone on mute and putting it in a place where you can’t see it during your work time is a great way to eliminate that type of distraction.

When your working session is over, you can then check your phone for missed calls or text messages and process them further in one go.

If the e-mail or instant messaging client if disturbing you, you can switch them off. When you start your work, you should check your e-mail later. Otherwise you will get sucked into your inbox instead of working on your tasks, which are on a bigger priority.

Once again, you should check your e-mail after your working session, but preferably 2-3 times per day the maximum. By this way, you are not letting e-mail to run your day and you can batch your e-mail message processing instead of reacting to every single message as soon as it arrives.

When the interruptions are caused by your family members, it is important to set some rules regarding your working hours and when you can be interrupted and when not. If you have a separate room for working, then it is natural to close the door and put a sign telling them, that you are working right now.

Another way of ensuring that you get stuff done without interruptions is to wake up early. I know, it may be difficult to get out of the bed early if you are used to wake-up late, but sometimes that’s the only way to handle the situation.

Your house or your apartment is probably quiet during the morning hours so you can fully focus on the work at hand. Besides, once you regularly start waking up earlier, it becomes a habit and early wake-ups are not a big of a deal anymore.

Finally, you can even start your own home office by renting (or buying) a separate office space for your business needs. This decreases the chance of getting distracted and you can focus on your work much better.

Internal interruptions

Sometimes you are getting interrupted by the thoughts in your head. For instance, you may have gone through something very emotional and you are not able to focus because of that. In that case, you should just take some time off and handle your emotions first, before you start to work.

Those interrupting thoughts can be also ideas that pop into your head in the middle of the working session. If this is the case, you should put them into a text file or to EverNote, so that they are accessible after you have ended your work.

If you keep thinking something completely else (like a sunny beach), instead of your work, you should definitely figure out your motivation for the task in the first place.

If the task just has to be done and there is no other way around it, then the best advice I can give is to jump right in and do the task as soon as possible. The sooner it’s done, the faster you can focus on something different instead (like that sunny beach).

The last tip is to check how much you have rested before you started working. I have noticed, that lack of sleep makes harm to my focus and I’m not able to perform my work the best way possible. Also, those distracting thoughts seem to pop into my head less frequently, when I’m fully rested.

Dealing with interruptions - external and internal ones


As you can see, it is both important and possible to schedule your interruptions. Otherwise, you are not in control of your work and you do not get anything done – at least in a timely manner.

It’s quite obvious, that the better you handle your interruptions, the more you get done and the better self-esteem you have, because you have accomplished so much during a day.

It’s your turn now!

  • What are the biggest sources of distractions you face on a daily level?
  • Do you have any tips for dealing with distractions?
About Timo Kiander

My name is Timo Kiander aka Productive Superdad.

I want to show you how to improve your productivity when working at home and find time for the fun stuff in your life!