Combating the Most Time Consuming Workplace Distraction

Julie Shenkman
Posted by

Ever find that your workday does not go as smoothly as planned? No, we’re not talking about the emergency meeting called at 4:45 PM or your hard drive that crashed five minutes before a project deadline. We’re talking about those colleagues that drop by to chat about everything from their kid’s latest triumph in little league to the latest Hollywood scandal. In a recent poll across the Nexxt Network of more than 15,000 niche career communities that asked, “What is the most time consuming distraction at work?” more than 42% of more than 8,700 business professionals, said that talkative colleagues are the biggest distraction in the workplace.
So, if so many professionals are affected by chatty colleagues, there has to be some solution to stay focused and productive. For those of us who suffer, here’s the good news and bad news—there isn’t just one clear cut solution. Below you’ll find some easy ways to let a talkative coworker down easily and avoid other distractions at work. So take your pick and figure out what works best for your particular situation. And who knows, if a chatty colleague reads this they might take the hint and save you the effort by changing their ways on their own. So, feel free to share this article! • Work on Flex Time – Consider arriving at work early or staying late to avoid distractions. Not only will you have some “quality time” to get organized and get things done, you can also avoid some traffic on your commute to and from work. • Close Your Door or Hang a Sign - A closed door sends a signal. Don’t have a door? Hang a sign to let your colleagues know you prefer not to be disturbed. • Grab Your Headphones - Sport your headphones (even if you’re not listening to any music). This is a good deterrent that shows coworkers that you’re making an attempt to not be distracted by blocking out anything else that’s going on in the office. • Avoid Instant Messaging- Many offices use instant messaging in order to increase productivity in the workplace. However, instant messaging can become highly-distracting, especially when folks use this as a means to chat or gossip. Think of how many times your instant messages were personal or weren’t urgent. When you are under a deadline or have a lot of work to do, think about temporarily closing down your instant messaging. If it’s urgent, someone will know how to reach you. • Forward Calls to Voice Mail- How many times have you been in the middle of a project and you get interrupted by a phone call? Even though it is important to be responsive, from time-to-time, it is acceptable to forward your calls directly to voice mail to avoid interruptions. • Check Email Messages Less Frequently- Do you find yourself checking your email messages every few minutes or feel that you need to respond to an email message as soon as you receive it? To avoid unnecessary disruptions, consider checking emails every half-hour or hour and prioritize your responses based upon level of urgency. • Be a Team Player - Being a team player is a great quality to have. So in order to stay productive ask for help. When you find yourself in a situation where you are going to be talking to a colleague that likes to chat, ask another co-worker to be on the lookout and politely request your assistance in order to eloquently end a conversation. • Work from Home - Do you find that you are more productive when you work in the privacy of your own home? If you answered yes, then telecommuting or asking to work from home from time-to-time might be a good option for you. Working from home, but making yourself available via email or phone, is a great way to avoid the idle chatter you experience when you are in the office. When dealing with talkative colleagues and avoiding disruptions, the most important thing is to stay professional. It’s easy to tell a friend or family member when they are being bothersome; however it can sometimes get more complicated in the workplace. For more career-related tips and resources, please visit our Career Resources. Content for this article provided by The Nexxt Network

Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Joan
    I too have had to wear headphones to drown out loud talkers and laughers wasting company time. I lost out on performance bonuses because of being slowed down and/or making errors. And again complaints to management bring no results except to relocate to a different desk.
  • Brenda
    I agree that has always been the most distracting thing. In fact, people want to know why I'm not talking and why I just keep silent and keep working. I did once get very behind in my work because of constant chatter in the next cubicle. Now I do work where it's not hard to concentrate, because I am retired from a secretarial position I had for 32 years, and now am just a file clerk temporarily. I find it easier to put up with the chatter in this job. I also think it is distracting when people in the next cubicle spend a lot of time on personal phone calls.
  • Bonnie
    Closing the door or explaining to them that you must concentrate doesn't seem to work with the constant loud talking and laughing because you are then accused of being anti-social.  Going to management doesn't work because he/she doesn't want to "rock the boat" especially with veteran employees.  Headphones seem to be the trick but who wants to wear them 8 hours a day!  Where have all the considerate people gone?
  • James McWhorter
    James McWhorter
    I work in a place where everyone is scattered in different rooms or even different cities.  At some point someone suggested that everyone get on Skype and keep in contact that way.  While the idea is novel; I knew that this was the beginning of trouble.  At first the IM was an informal method of touching base with everyone.  Things were nice.  Then the IM became more of a primary communication tool.  With e-mail I could search my archives and follow whole conversations in order to clear up misunderstandings.  That is almost impossible with an instant messenger. The most debilitating aspect of the IM mandate is that micromanagement can run rampant.  A supervisor can instant message a worker to no end; asking about how things are going and when they will be done. Furthermore, and I believe my strongest point, is that all too often half-thought request/inquiries can be passed over instant messenger.  With e-mail the message is much more intentional and well thought out.
  • Mark
    The largest distraction is not blabbermouth coworkers; it's the internet.  The reason your survey shows so many people blaming their coworkers for their personal performance failures is that is is much easier on the psyche to blame others than to take responsibility and admit to this controllable and personal failure.  Internet access is a WONDERFUL tool - it's difficult to think back to the days before it, because it makes information so reaadily available.  The problem with the internet isn't that people mindlessly 'surf' all day, however.  The problem is that as one reads information on a topic being investigated, there is a tendency to branch  off into other data streams as we learn of connections between what we originally start out seeking to know.  Thus, we begin looking for informatin about milk and end up reading about cows and tainted feed, and hormones and somehow those hormones get tied to sterioids and, the next thing we know, we are reading about Barry Bonds! Well, there went 45 minutes, and not one iota about milk, but we can now discourse intelligently about the similarities of dairy farm cattle feed doping, and the MLB steroid debacle!  Oops!  So it's not wicked intent to run off in all directions with the net, but the data is so readily available, and the mind so inquisitive and fast, that we run off absorbing all sorts of information just because WE CAN.  And how do we explain to the boss how, when we were asked about milk, s/he strolled by and we were reading about baseball?  "Well, it started out with milk..."  and we don't even recall how the heck DID we get to baseball, anyhow?
  • Virginia
    It's my belief that most people nowadays cannot shut up.  I think that's why the cellphone was invented.  The workplace has gotten steadily noisier since 1968 when I started working right after high school.  Back then, at least, people were very considerate of others and realized that when you were at work you were being paid to do a job (and not to talk endlessly).  I started working last summer for a small company as a data entry operator, and my coworkers talked and laughed loudly all day long.  One of them would also turn on a boom box every day and play the most hideous kind of "music," because we're all aware that everyone loves the same kind of music!  Even though I complained to the supervisor (who agreed they were too loud), nothing was done except that I had to wear earplugs all day long and could still hear the noise.  I only lasted at that job for 9 weeks, and it's a shame because I loved the work and have not been able to find another data entry job since then.  I honestly don't know what the world is coming to!

Jobs to Watch