Is it possible to stay on task and work without distraction?

Wednesday 8 May 2019 | removing distractions

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You have a task assigned to you and are feeling the deadline steadily approaching. Somehow, despite the urgency, your attention starts to wander over to your email notifications. Your phone buzzing on your desk beside you creates a new distraction. Then along comes the office gossip with the latest news on everyone's comings and goings.

There's no doubt that it's difficult to stay on task, even for the most diligent of workers - but have you ever wondered why?

There's a foundation of psychology behind why we're so driven to respond to notifications and are stimulated by distractions in our immediate environment.

With an understanding of 'why' we respond the way we do and today's digitally focused work environment, we attempt to answer the underlying question: is it possible to stay on task and work without distraction?

The psychology behind distraction

Leading Ph.D. research psychologists say that we are very rarely able to focus on any given task for more than five minutes without being distracted.

You may already be familiar with the classical conditioning theory of Pavlov's dogs, where Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, trained his dogs to associate mealtime with the ring of a bell. In the experiment, he found he could create an involuntary response in the dogs where they would salivate every time the bell rang.

The psychology behind distractions in the workplace today are incredibly similar. Beeps, buzzes and pings as a result of push notifications prompt an almost involuntary action to check your devices.

Apps are designed to create a link between emotion and a service. Do any of these sound familiar in a work setting?

  • You're stressed about a client's approvals, so you glance at your email notifications frequently to see if it's arrived
  • You've just posted a stellar post on the company Facebook page, so you check in every half hour to see how it's doing
  • There's a great conversation going on in the work Slack channel, so you have one foot in your messaging app and one in the task at home
  • You're working remotely, so you're frequently looking down at your phone in case someone in the office needs your help

There are plenty of opportunities for distraction in a technologically focused business that use your psychological response to capture your attention.

Are you susceptible to your environment?

It's not just push notifications at the heart of distraction in a modern workplace - your environment is just as likely to draw you away from a task at hand.

The physical setting where work is done has transformed over time to be predominantly in open office; shared spaces where there are no doors or walls to allow privacy. The intention is to foster collaboration and transparency, but in terms of distraction, it can have an adverse effect.

The workplace can be loud and full of chatter which, while great for culture, can be hard to ignore when it's time to roll up the sleeves and get the work done.

But it's not just coworkers causing distraction in modern workplace environments - frequent meetings are responsible too.

In a 2018 study, Udemy found that 60% of survey respondents felt meetings were "just another distraction from the work they need to complete."

It's no wonder, considering both the technological and social distractions ever-present in a modern, digital workplace that staying productive and attentive can be a real struggle.

The practice of concentration

Having identified the psychological and environmental conditions that underpin the challenges with concentrating at work, there are a -few ways to combat this.

Psychologist Dr. Larry Rosen suggests "we have to retrain our brains to respond based on a set schedule rather than spontaneous cues, i.e. an alert or notification."

The best way to do this, is to practice extended periods of concentration. For instance, set a timer every half hour to allow yourself five minutes to check your emails, notifications and calls. Make sure to keep the allocated time in between for distraction-free working.

If you're interested in reading more about ways to maintain productivity among distractions, we've put together this helpful blog.

Remove yourself from environmental distractions

There are a multitude of reasons why working remotely can boost productivity. For an in depth outline of these, take a look at our blog: remote workers outperform office workers for this single reason. However, the number one reason is the lack of distraction compared to a busy office environment.

Work is not just a place everyone goes, it can also be a thing people do, and having the right tools in place to accommodate this is paramount.

Address technological distractions

Having several applications that all require your attention via push notifications can play on our psychological need to respond and prove extremely distracting.

Having a single platform take care of all digital functions in a business significantly reduces notification noise. As we know, less notifications equal higher productivity. With the right tools in place, it is possible to stay on task and work without distraction.

PIQNIC actively works to centralise these functions and reduce notifications. Each user can filter out notifications to best suit what they want to be notified about and by who. This means that while you're working on a presentation, quote or proposal and only want to be notified by that specific client - you can.

If you're keen to tackle distractions in your workplace head one, download our FREE E-Book to find out how PIQNIC can help supercharge your business.


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