By Caleb Petty

You’re behind on a work project that’s due tomorrow. You’re running out of time. You’re feverishly typing away when all of the sudden… “Massive brawl breaks out at end of Kansas-Kansas State.”

The headline from the ESPN app on your phone grabs your attention. You have to watch the video. It just can’t wait.

But it can. Is watching the video right this second worth missing a major deadline and possibly getting fired?

So many things can distract us in today’s world: technology, coworkers, the need to constantly socialize. It’s easy to get distracted from the monotonous routine of the workday. When important work needs to get done, however, it’s time to get rid of these distractions.

Here are some of the top distractions you might face in the workplace and tips on how to eliminate them.

Distraction #1: Cell Phone

With great technology comes great responsibility.

Our cell phones do so much good for us. Phones save us time and give us instant access to the world from the palm of our hands. 

But they also offer so many things that distract us:

  • Texting/instant messaging
  • Calling — friends and robocalls
  • Social media
  • Email
  • News alerts
  • Games

With all of these features easily accessible in your pocket or sitting on your desk, it becomes easy to get distracted every few minutes. Furthermore, it’s rude to take out your phone to check your notifications when interacting with coworkers.

Fix: For starters, it will be most helpful and most respectful for you to not have your phone during important meetings, calls or interactions with coworkers. Don’t take your phone to the big meeting and keep it face down on your desk when taking calls. 

Eventually, you should get into the habit of not checking your phone except for during certain parts of the day. Check your notifications in the morning before work, during your lunch break and then again after work. If you think that you’re someone who really can’t go without it, set a goal for yourself and slowly work toward it each day. 

Cell phone use can be addicting, but eliminating it from your time in the office will go a long way in helping you stay focused on more important things.

Distraction #2: Other People

Sometimes a good chat at the ol’ water cooler can be a nice break from a stressful workday. The problem occurs when you end up standing at the water cooler for an hour talking to 10 different people. 

Coworkers who aren’t working can be a major disruption to your work productivity. Short business conversations can lead to hour-long personal chats in which neither you nor your coworker gets anything done. 

Or maybe you work in a more progressive office space where there’s a ping pong table or a yoga room. People messing around in there can be tempting as well. Don’t fall into the trap every day.

Fix: For big assignments or fast-approaching deadlines, you need to find a space where no one can reach you. Close your door or go to a quiet corner of the office to concentrate. The best way to eliminate the people distracting you is to put yourself in a situation where you can’t see them.

If you find yourself stuck in an off-topic conversation with a friend, try saying, “Hey, I have a ton of work to do, but I would love to continue this conversation after work tonight.” 

Postponing distractions until after work hours will allow you the time and space to sit alone and get things done.

Distraction #3: Social Media

In today’s world, we have a constant need to socialize with people. 

Maybe you were successful at eliminating face-to-face distractions in the workplace, but there’s no guarantee that your friends won’t send you links to hilarious videos and tweets on social media while you’re trying to work.

If you can’t go without your phone for an entire work day or don’t feel like making the changes suggested in the cell phone section of this article, then we have a couple social media-specific fixes. 

Fix: Turn on screen time limits on your phone. 

In your phone’s settings, you can establish a specific amount of time that you want to allow yourself to be on your phone. For example, if you limit yourself to two hours of screen time per day, your phone will “lock you out” and prevent further use.

Some social media apps allow you to set limits as well. TikTok, one of the newest social media platforms, allows you to set scroll limits in the app. Once you have scrolled past your limit of posts, the app will notify you to stop.

Time easily slips away when you go down a rabbit hole of videos, tweets, and posts. Setting time or scroll limits is a great way of restricting yourself without having to consciously stop each time. Technology does it for you. 

Distraction #4: Music

Some people like it while they work, others don’t. 

There are many studies that indicate that playing music in the background while working can enhance studying, memory and work productivity. On the other hand, there are studies that show the opposite, citing some of the negative effects of music while working.

But here’s a non-scientific rule of thumb: If you find yourself singing along to the lyrics instead of thinking of the right words to type in an email, it’s time to take a break from the music.

Fix: If you’re dead set on music and absolutely can’t go without it, try mixing it up. Classical music without lyrics is a great way to have some subtle background noise, but won’t tempt you into singing along.

Pro tip: The Classical Goes Pop station on Pandora offers a cool music mix that converts iconic pop songs into lyric-free classical tunes. Try this station if traditional classical music isn’t your thing.

As previously mentioned with other distractions, getting rid of music entirely during important or time-sensitive work is always a good start. From there you can work your way up to not having music at all.

All of these distractions are part of the world we live in. 

It’s not wrong to chat with your cubicle neighbor, check your phone for important messages or listen to music throughout the day. But these things will become distracting and harmful when used excessively. 

Be mindful of things that can distract you and be cautious when engaging with those things. This is the first step in eliminating any work distraction and increasing your productivity.

Now, you should probably get back to work.