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COVID-19: How to cope with constant distractions in the library

November 2, 2016
Clare Brown

There is no such thing as a typical day in the library. A librarian could have their day mapped out before logging on but, in reality, the chances that they'll stick to a schedule are slim. Distractions are the norm; reference requests, forgotten passwords, assisting on projects that suddenly become urgent.

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Combine these with your regular tasks, email, social media - oh and a global pandemic - it’s no wonder that it can be hard to focus. On the plus side, however, there are a number of steps you can take to try and mitigate the impact of these distractions upon your work.

After COVID-19, nothing is normal anymore

We are all working through a multitude of unimaginable distractions. When this piece was originally written, people went to work and escaped home distractions; caring obligations, managing schooling issues, or other essential home business. Although many people are back in the office, you’re probably still working from home, so how is it going?

After months of remote working, although it’s far from perfect, you have structures in place and you have a routine. You’ve adapted to restructuring your work environment as best you can, and have embraced the change. You might even be considering making this full time - family and working space arrangements, permitting. 

challenges of COVID

Make a note of your thought process

Even if you're working from home, work colleagues will still distract you. A colleague requests a zoom call or an email pops up in your inbox, it’s urgent and you’re needed right now. Except, you’re in the middle of working on a complex research query and you know that it always takes a substantial amount of time to get back into the task. That’s okay.

Before you rush to your colleague’s assistance, take ten seconds to make a brief note of where you’ve got to and what you were about to do. Forming such a habit will help you hugely when you return to the project at hand, enabling you to get back into the swing of things much more easily without having to figure out where you were before you left off.

Schedule time for email, social media, etc.

Where possible, 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 are able to focus fully on the task concerned, in the comforting knowledge that your inbox is under control.

Soon enough, this scheduled time will form part of your daily routine and you won’t even have to think about it any more. If you’re worried about missing urgent emails from specific coworkers, you can mark these contacts as important in your email system so that an alert will pop up on your screen when a message from them comes through.

take control with tech

It's ok to be distracted

As a librarian, you know that your day will not go as planned. 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 on a daily basis you’re bound to become demoralised. Instead, try and be more realistic.

Log your time. This will also help you to be transparent when talking with those who work outside of the library and information service, so that you can explain to them more easily what actually takes up the bulk of your time. Working from home means you need to be scrupulous when it comes to accounting for your time.

Give yourself time to take a break

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. As HBR recommends aim to plan those breaks as rewards, as opposed to leaving them until you are already distracted, 

Physical movement, like walking the dog or emptying the dishwasher provide relief after spending time doing mostly “brain work,” like reading, writing, and collaborating with others. Plan for these breaks and use them as a reward. For example, if you’re having trouble starting the article you need to write, decide that “as soon as I identify the three points of the article and draft the introduction, then I can take the dog for a walk.” 

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, 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. I highly recommend giving it a try.

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Tell us how you focus, what is working for you right now?