Tips & Advice

5 Tips to stay in the zone at work

Photo of Daniel Gniazdo
June 17, 2016
Reading time
5 minutes

Your colleague Suzy is really fun, but she laughs like a screeching seagull. Your colleague Daniel is a nice enough guy, but he’s so loud, people halfway across the world cover their ears when he “whispers.” Your colleague Tom keeps constantly dropping by your desk to tell jokes only he and – regrettably – Suzy find funny.

They’re all great people, but sometimes you really wish they’d just let you work in peace for one single moment. How are you supposed to get anything done when you’re constantly distracted?! Well, here are at least five suggestions.

Man wearing Evolve 80 in the office

Hey! Did you know it’s World Productivity Day on Monday, June 20? Me neither. It’s arguably one of the more obscure celebrations. Productivity day? On a Monday? Ugh! But World Productivity Day is apparently a thing. Which is why, in honor of this occasion, I thought I’d share a few tips on staying productive at work.

Studies tell us that, on average, you get distracted (or distract yourself) at work every three minutes. Every. Three. Minutes. That’s nuts! That means you won’t even get to finish reading this before someone taps you on the shoulder to ask a question or an irresistible inspirational quote pops up in your Facebook feed. Go ahead, read it. I’ll wait.

Done? Good! Let’s move on.

Now, once you’ve been interrupted, it can take you as long as 25 minutes to get back to the original task and back in the zone. Ouch!

All of these interruptions aren’t going anywhere. On the contrary, we’ll be distracted even more frequently now that more and more of us work in open-plan offices with dozens of other people around.

Insights and the flexibility to overcome challenges

So what do you do when you need some space to stay focused and avoid repeated distractions from colleagues? I have a few ideas.

1. Tell those around you

Yup, just straight up tell your nearby colleagues you’re working on something that requires a bit of concentration.

You may scoff at this suggestion. (“Wow, really?! I can use my mouth to communicate?! Thanks, genius!”) But the truth is, simply telling your colleagues can often be enough to have them tone it down and stop them from asking you questions every few moments. I mean, unless they’re cartoonish James Bond villains, they’ll sympathize with your plight. In fact, you may even elicit their support in shushing other people who get a bit too noisy.

Just try it!

2. Use your “busy” indicators

Psst, here’s a secret: That tiny status icon in your Skype for Business is there for a reason. I’m not being patronizing. Few of us actually use these, but the status indicators are invaluable when you need to focus.

There’s an especially helpful one called “Do not disturb” that blocks all notifications and shows a scary red sign to anyone trying to contact you. Perfect for silencing a lot of Skype distractions.

Do not disturb sign Skype
“You shall not call!”

It’s not only Skype, obviously. Most UC clients – Cisco Jabber, for instance – let you change your presence indicators. Use them.

3. Ignore the phone

No, really. The world won’t end if that next call goes through to your voicemail. In fact, you’ll be surprised how many issues the caller thought were urgent will resolve themselves if you don’t respond. Those with a truly important question will try again later or leave you a message. And you’ll get to keep your sanity while completing your to-do list in peace.

Leverage the benefits of at-home agents and create flexible contact centers

Granted, if your job actually involves talking to customers or some other call-intensive activity, this tip won’t be as useful to you. The rest of us have no excuse, though. Just put that phone on “silent” and focus on the task at hand.

4. Get some music going

This one’s my personal favorite. I’ve written before about how the right music can really help you focus. On top of that, it masks some of the office noise around you.

This works even better when combined with a noise-cancelling headset like the Jabra Evolve. I promise I’m not saying this just because Jabra pays my bills. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt the need to slap on my trusty Jabra Evolve 80 and drown out the noise with some sweet Spotify tracks.

Man wearing Jabra Evolve 80 in a cafe
This stock photo model knows what I’m talking about!

In fact, I wrote most of this very post while soothing tunes from Morcheeba washed gently over my ears. True story.

5. Leave

Seriously. Get up from your desk, pick up your laptop, and go somewhere else. Nobody can interrupt you if you’re not there. Do it.

Many of us have the luxury of being able to work from home every now and then. If some task requires your undivided attention, stay at home and get it done. If you can’t work from home, find a quiet room or any other private space in your office where you can isolate yourself for a few hours. Create your own concentration zone.

None of these tips are exactly revolutionary, but they all work. Make yourself unavailable for a while, treat yourself to a bit of uninterrupted concentration time, and see just how much you can accomplish when you’re in the zone.

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Now go check those Facebook notifications to see if you’ve missed anything while reading this post. I know you’re itching to. It’s been at least three minutes.

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