Current Awareness Strategy Blog

How to cope with constant distractions when you're working



There is no such thing as a typical day in a library and information service - or even a tech company! An information professional could have their day mapped out before logging on but, in reality, the chances that you'll stick to a schedule are slim. Distractions are the norm; research requests, forgotten passwords, and assisting on projects that suddenly become urgent. Combine these with your regular tasks like current awareness, subscription management and overseeing everything, it’s no wonder that it can be hard to focus.

On the plus side, however, there are steps you can take to mitigate the impact of these distractions on your work. First of all, admit that it's ok to be distracted. Expect colleagues to come to you with emergencies and urgent questions and allow time for that when considering what you can achieve in your day. If you’re constantly chasing unachievable targets daily you’re bound to become demoralised. Instead, try and be more realistic.

No time? Have you considered making your training bite-sized?

Managing your workflow to minimise distractions

Recording your time

If you feel like your time is mysteriously disappearing, take a lesson from meditation. Be more mindful! Make a note and log your time throughout the day. This has the added bonus of allowing you to explain to management what takes up the bulk of your time. I've found Clockify to be helpful and you can create clients and projects. I don't see why you can't create Admin as a client, and then create Projects or tasks under that heading. Other excellent time-tracking tools are available and I'm sure your organisation has one.

Planning and project management tools

Do you want to be even more efficient? Project management and planning tools such as, Trello, or Asana allow you to organise tasks, set goals and collaborate efficiently. Why not combine your project planning and timekeeping? In, when you've created your task list, there is an option for tracking time which can help you focus.  

Documenting your thought process

It happens, you are in the middle of something and something suddenly comes up. When an unexpected call or urgent email interrupts your work, take a moment to jot down your current task and next steps. Tools like Evernote or OneNote can be invaluable for quickly capturing your thought process. This habit ensures a smoother transition back to your task, reducing the time needed to regain your focus. Alternatively, you could dictate a note for speed and clarity. 

Scheduling time on your calendar

Your colleagues don't interrupt you on purpose. Really. If you can allocate specific times in your calendar for "focus time" or specific project work, people will become accustomed to your schedule and minimise interruptions. If you have a supportive working environment, it's an effective way of staying focused. Of course, it doesn't always work, and if something important comes up, you will want to be involved. 

Communication and emails

If you've identified email as a time-thief, there are some low-tech solutions. For example, try and book time in your calendar to specifically respond to emails. Having this pre-scheduled time will mean that no longer are you constantly diving in and out of your inbox. Instead, you can focus fully on the task concerned, in the comforting knowledge that your inbox is under control.

For a high-tech solution for email management, why not try a tool like Boomerang for Gmail for email scheduling and prioritisation. It helps you maintain focus on current tasks without the constant distraction of incoming messages. For critical communications, use your email client's feature to mark important contacts for alerts, ensuring you never miss urgent messages. 

Have you ever opened a message on Slack or similar, then got distracted and lost the message? There is functionality which can help you avoid this - marking it as unread or setting an alert so you can come back to a message at a later time. Make use of all the tools at your fingertips!

The power of scheduled breaks

Never underestimate the value of taking breaks. Incorporate short breaks into your schedule as rewards for completing tasks. This not only boosts productivity but also ensures you're working with renewed focus. Apps like Pomodoro Timer encourage this practice by dividing work into focused intervals followed by breaks, helping you manage your energy more effectively.

When your day is packed full and time is a rare commodity, giving up some of those precious minutes to take a break may seem somewhat counter-intuitive. However, taking some time out is invaluable when it comes to your productivity levels. Think less about the hours you put into a task, and place a greater emphasis instead on the effort and focus required. An alert and refreshed version of you may be able to finish that task in just one hour instead of the 90 minutes you were initially anticipating. A recent article says, 

Research has consistently shown that individuals who take regular breaks tend to perform better on tasks. These breaks enable your brain to reset, making it easier to tackle challenging problems and make well-informed decisions. Regular breaks also encourage physical movement, reducing the risks associated with prolonged sitting, such as back pain and poor posture.

Light physical activities like stretching, short walks, or even a mini workout can boost blood circulation, reduce muscle tension, and refresh your mind. Research has linked extended periods of sedentary behaviour to health issues like obesity, cardiovascular problems, and diabetes. Incorporating short breaks to move around is an effective strategy to counteract these negative health effects.

Use technology to help you focus

Some days, no matter how much time you have on your hands, you may find yourself still unable to focus. You notice you are inadvertently tuning in to phone conversations from some of your louder coworkers, picking up on background noises, and diving for the biscuit tin at every opportunity - basically every distraction you can find.

These are the days when it may be best to find a little bit of white noise. A quick web search will find you a fantastic range of playlists - from classic white noise to jungle sounds or (my personal preference) ocean waves. You won’t find yourself tuning into the lyrics of a song, and instead will be able to block out background distractions to focus on the task in front of you. White noise apps like Noisli or myNoise offer a variety of sounds to mask background noise, from ocean waves to rainforest sounds, aiding concentration.

We're all different when it comes to what works best for maintaining focus amidst distractions. Whether it's a specific app, a time management technique, or a unique personal habit, sharing your strategies can help others find new ways to enhance their productivity. By integrating these technological solutions and strategies into your workflow, you can create a more focused and efficient work environment, even in the face of the inevitable distractions that come with library and information services.

Tell us how you focus, what works for you and your team?

migration made easy

Subscribe by email