Sometimes, it can be a challenge to stay focused on work. Preoccupying personal matters sometimes intrude, such as a sick child, marital woes, or money problems. It doesn’t take personal problems to draw your attention away from what you’re supposed to be doing, however. The workplace has plenty of distractions of its own.
There’s the chatty coworker. The baby shower in the conference room. The YouTube video of a cat playing a keyboard. Yes, the workplace is host to a dizzying array of distractions, and every person on every rung of the ladder has to contend with it.
Here are a few of the most common workplace distractions that can make it hard to get your work done.
If you’re an employer, you don’t have to monitor your workers’ behavior to know that many are using their computers for things that are unrelated to work. Most are likely to be tooling around on the Internet, engaged in a practice Psychology Today magazine describes as “cyber-slacking.”
According to the magazine, respondents to a survey reported spending an average of 1 hour and 44 minutes of their workday surfing the Internet. In terms of lost productivity, that’s the equivalent of calling out sick on Monday and then arriving late on Tuesday.
“For a lot of people, Internet access is better at work than it is at home,” says Tony Lee, publisher of the job search site CareerCast.com. “So they wait until they get to work to do their cybershopping, vacation planning, all the things you rely on the Internet to do.”
The Psychology Today survey found that of all the websites that distracted employees, none came close to Facebook. Respondents claimed that of the 104 minutes they spent each day cyber-slacking, 35 were spent managing livestock on the online farm-management game Farmville, in addition to a smattering of “liking” and a soupcon of “poking.”
Information technology costs businesses productivity, an irony that’s not lost on Yaacov Cohen, co-founder and CEO of the social email provider harmon.ie. “Information technology that was designed at least in part to save time is actually doing precisely the opposite,” says Cohen.
The computer isn’t the only electronic source of distraction in the workplace. There’s also the BlackBerry, the iPhone, the Android, and many other mobile devices. A harmon.ie survey of more than 1,100 British office workers found that many used their handheld devices to text friends and make personal phone calls, sometimes even doing so in the middle of meetings.
Handheld devices also distract others when they are left on desks by owners who have stepped away. That amusing ringtone that plays the theme to “The Twilight Zone” becomes a lot less amusing when it’s repeatedly subjected to coworkers.
Not every workplace distraction is self-inflicted. A survey by the recruitment firm Robert Walters found that fully 50 percent of its respondents cited their fellow coworker as a distraction, far outpacing any other factor. It’s understandable, as those working under tight deadlines are unlikely to appreciate loud water-cooler conversations about last night’s episode of “Real Housewives.”
Be advised, that irritating distraction in the workplace might be you. So keep your chattiness to a minimum, avoid loud gum chewing, boisterous laughing, and the humming of your favorite tune.