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PRODUCTIVITY

The Top 10 Office Distractions

When it comes to productivity busters, you need to know your enemy to defeat it. A new survey can help.
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Work, you've probably realized, sometimes feels like the worst place in the world to actually get work done. You're not the only one to have noticed. 37signals co-founder Jason Fried has a whole, fascinating TEDx talk on this subject.

"The front door of the office is like a Cuisinart," he says. "You walk in the door, and your day is shredded to bits."

Various distractions mean that offices are often a horrible environment for sustained concentration. But what exactly is busting our productivity at work? CareerBuilder recently set out to identify all the various distractions that conspire to turn your workday into confetti with a survey of more than 5,000 workers and HR pros.

The results are a rogues' gallery of popular office distractions. Here are the top 10 most common responses:

  • Cell phone/texting--50 percent
  • Gossip--42 percent
  • The Internet--39 percent
  • Social media--38 percent
  • Snack breaks or smoke breaks--27 percent
  • Noisy co-workers--24 percent
  • Meetings--23 percent
  • Email--23 percent
  • Co-workers dropping by--23 percent
  • Co-workers putting calls on speakerphone--10 percent

To any office veteran, none of these will come as a complete surprise, but perhaps by identifying the enemies of concentration, we can better arm ourselves to fight them. A few seem simple to eliminate (you there, with your call on speakerphone: Get a headset already!) while others, such as the Internet, are pretty deeply woven into office life. But even for the distractions that are hardest to master, there are plenty of tips and tricks to limit their concentration-shredding effects.

Blog Dumb Little Man, for instance, reminds social-media addicts there are such things are site blockers and that there is no shame in using them strategically. Meanwhile, it turns out breaks may at first appear like a concentration killer, but when used thoughtfully to refresh and recharge, can actually be a productivity booster, according to psychologists. You just need to be thoughtful about when to and how to take them.

Simple gizmos exist to politely warn away chatty co-workers (or just go with the tried-and-true headphones and head-bop method), and there is a library of great ideas out there on taming meetings and making email less tortuous.

Rankings of office annoyances offer a perverse sort of fun--at least you know you're not the only one suffering--but the underlying lesson of surveys like this could simply be that you need to first figure out what's distracting you to get back some control of your workday.

As Laura Schwecher of Greatist.com has written, the first step to better concentration is pinpointing the exact problem. "What causes you to lose focus? Is it fatigue, hunger, or a Twitter addiction? Figuring out the issue is the first step toward trying to fix it," she has advised.

What are your top office distractions, and what are you doing to eliminate them?

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jun 18, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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