8 Ways to Kick Distractions Out Of Your Office

One of the nicest things about working in an office is your co-workers. Having other people around to talk to and work alongside can make working more enjoyable, and make tedious things seem not quite as bad.

Sometimes, though, you’ve got work that requires your full attention. For me, it’s usually the editing phase of an article I’m about to turn in – I need to be fully engaged, paying complete attention, for an hour or so to make sure the article is perfect. Trouble is, co-workers aren’t always so good at knowing when you need some solitude, and unwelcome distractions are a staple of anyone who tries to actually do work.

With a few simple tricks, though, you can kill (or at least minimize) those distractions when you want to, putting them off until you’re in the mood to be distracted. Here are eight ways to defeat the distractions that keep you from getting real work done:

Wear Headphones

For some reason, most people won’t interrupt someone who’s wearing headphones – it’s a universal symbol for “please leave me alone.” For some of us, music can be a distraction too; don’t even listen to music. Just put on a disconnected pair of headphones, and work away – you’ll be able to hear just fine, but since other people will think you can’t, they won’t try distracting you.

I worked in an office where that rule – if I’m wearing headphones, go away – was made explicit, and it worked really well. In most places, though, the rule still unofficially applies, so throw on some headphones and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Standing Room Only

The difference between someone coming into your cubicle or office for 30 seconds, and 30 minutes, is often whether or not they can sit down. If you don’t have a chair in your office, there’s nowhere to sit and get comfortable, and the length of visits (welcome or unwelcome) drops considerably.

If you want to provide a place to sit down, but don’t want the distractions sometimes, try putting a pile of papers on top of the chair. Take it off when you’re in need of some distraction.

Walk and Talk

I had this tactic used on me, and decided it’s genius. If someone really needs to talk to you, have them talk to you while you go do something you need to do anyway, like get a cup of coffee. You’re not losing any time because you needed coffee anyway, and our conversation is limited to the time your little errand takes. Once you’re back at your desk, make it known you’ve got to get back to work.


Distractions don’t just come face-to-face: the ringing of the phone or the “Ding!” of a new email can both be huge distractions that are tough to recover from (studies show that it can take up to fifteen minutes to get back to work after even the smallest distraction). When you’ve got crucial, attention-demanding work to do, fall off the grid – close your email client, silence or unplug your phone, and get to work.

Disconnecting from the Internet entirely is a good thing, but isn’t always possible. At the very least, make sure you’re getting rid of anything that will make sound, pop up, do somersaults, or otherwise dance its way into your attention.

Be in the Middle of Something

If someone comes over and starts chatting you up, don’t stop working, turn around, kick your feet up and start a conversation. Keep working, pausing at necessary moments to answer them. Don’t be impolite, but make it clear that you’re in the middle of something that can’t afford to wait. They’ll get that, and give you space to get your work done.

Make Up Somewhere to Be

I use a couple of different reminder services (things that pop up and say things like “Go get your laundry” at a time you tell it), but never for actual reminders. Instead, they’re great excuses for the work equivalent of the “call from the hospital” to get you out of a blind date.

Some services, like Skype, can be set to call your phone at a specific time; others, like Google Calendar or Task.fm, can pop up on your computer or send you a text message. It’s all gold. Anything that dings, rings, buzzes or beeps is the perfect excuse to say “Oh, I have to take this. Let me get back to you.” And boom – you’re back to work.

Rain Check

Most of the things people come to talk to you about, or email you about, aren’t particularly pressing. Sure, they might be important, but odds are you don’t need to talk about it right this very second.

That’s why there’s no problem and no shame in saying “I’m in the middle of something – I’ll come find you when I’m done.” That way, they’re not going to come back looking for you, because you’re going to them when you get a chance. It frees you to do what you actually need to be doing right now, and get to the rest later.


One of the classic parts of the vacation auto-responder emails everyone sets up when they leave is something to the effect of, “if you need help, call Dean at 555-1234. If you REALLY need help, call my cell phone at…” Create the same sort of system for your workday.

If at all possible, have another person  – an assistant, or partner – who can deal with people who need you, while you’re working. If people absolutely need to talk to you this very second, create a system for that. Knock three times, quack like a duck, and bring me a Coke. Or, you know, something like that.

I wouldn’t trade office life for anything – I love having people to eat lunch with, ask questions of, and collaborate with to make things better than I could do myself. It’s also a lot harder to procrastinate when everyone can see you on Facebook, but I digress. Distractions do come, some unavoidable, but by minimizing necessary distractions and avoiding unnecessary ones, you’re in great shape to get tons more done.

How do you deal with distractions when you need to get work done?

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  1. Nick on the 3rd October

    I use the headphone trick all the time! I love it! People will not bother you!

  2. Kendall on the 3rd October

    I’ll use the headphones plugged into the iPhone. They’ll think I’m on the phone and walk on by works every-time.

  3. Daquan Wright on the 3rd October

    I listen to music all day long (although I don’t work in an office), it actually keeps me from getting bored at times and I listen to music when I read books for college. Works wonders, I’d be dead without my music. lol

  4. Web 2.0 Tools on the 3rd October

    Headphone is a good trick and I really can’t work without listening to music 🙂

  5. Daniel Groves on the 4th October

    OK, I don’t work in an office, but I do think these are some very good ideas. I’m gunna give these a go when trying to work at school. Not all will be practical (like I can’t really walk and talk because someone will steel my MacBook while i’m gone) but I’ll give them a shot and try to get more work done!

  6. Karl Foxley on the 4th October

    I use the walk and talk a lot and you’d be surprised how quickly people get to the point of what they want to ask / talk about instead of the ‘how are you today?’ filler.

    Some great tips.


  7. Melania on the 4th October

    What about people who costantly doesn’t work and even makes loud sounds and in general disturbs you(ot not necessairly you) at any time talking about weekend(that seems neverending for most of them), facebook, and unfaithful relationships?

    In a case like this, putting on earphones without music won’t work, ’cause you will keep on hearing them doing what they do best. a-big-notihng. Scolding them is not in my autority, reporting their behaviour is something I’d hate to do even if I’m right, then, what to do?

  8. Bob Bessette on the 5th October

    I like your post. I use headphones or earbuds and when people interrupt me it is for a short time. I also have a chair in my cubicle but I always have my briefcase on it. I only move it off if I really want to talk to this person. I also use the Walk and Talk option. I either have to get a cup of coffee or I need to hit the Men’s room. They both work well.


  9. John on the 5th October

    This is a massive problem in my office. I’ve taken to just shutting the door and ignoring people. It’s rude but it’s even ruder to not get the work done.

  10. Jarryd on the 5th October

    I use headphones to keep me focused and distractions away because I have a very open office. The problem is my manager will wave his hands in front of my face to get my attention, even though he can see that I’m busy. It’s usually something that isn’t urgent or important too. /sigh

  11. Pam on the 5th October

    Ok…I LOVE the scheduling Skype or another system to send you a non-reminder. I’m going to have to make use of that. I know when I have to go to a political showing that really does not need me to be there all night I often have asked a friend to give me the “emergency” phonecall so I can leave appropriately at a respectful hour.

    I never thought of using this throughout the day to escape back to work…


  12. arin on the 5th October

    i’ve also found that sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting, “i can’t hear you” not only makes people back out of your office, but you can get some much needed time off as well! granted, sometimes permanently, but no matter….



    i’m working on the “drop off the grid” thing. otherwise, too many bright shiny interesting things flutter past mah screen and distract me…

  13. Jason Schwartz on the 6th October

    My entire creative team works in an open space. When we have a bunch of distractions, I let everyone go work where they feel like they can get something done. Yes, sometimes that means leaving the office.

    However, I understand that all places are not as open to that, or even have that option. My other suggestion is to keep some music on at a low volume. It helps to drown everything out.

  14. Ciprian on the 6th October

    This is amazing.. i’m definitely going to use all these advices.. i really got distracted a lot from work lately… i’m going to unplug! (and.. yeah… i was a little rude to the people i had to talk to while working)

  15. Angelee on the 14th June

    I usually use the headphones. At first, I listened to couple of music then later I forget I’m no longer listening to anything. That would mean I’m concentrating and I’m less distracted.

  16. Mario on the 16th June

    I agree with all of this *if* your job is cranking out cold calls or you’re getting paid by the numbers. Production is everything. But if your work has anything to do with innovation, and collaboration, and ideas (hint: most of us) – then there is real value in the very distractions you’re trying to avoid. The 15-minute “waste of time” conversation with your co-worker has huge value. It may be where the next big idea gets it’s start, where the next great partnership begins, or where the solution to a problem is found. Blow that guy off listening to your MP3 player, and who knows what you missed?

    There is value in the mess and distraction of “real” life among people.

  17. Marfi on the 5th January

    Great tips! Especially those with the alerts, great article!

  18. Okey on the 18th March






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