The Impact of Interruptions on Productivity & How to Combat Them

Learn why distractions in the workplace can be detrimental to the long-term success of your organization and ways to combat them.

By Hannah Ross  •   March 7, 2023  •   6 min read

It can be extremely difficult to limit distractions, especially because we’re living in a digital era and we’re constantly being bombarded with emails, Slack notifications, social media alerts, and so much more. Not taking the time to set boundaries or limit interruptions can be incredibly detrimental to your success. Luckily, you can take a proactive stance by combating workplace interruptions at work before they hinder your productivity. 

In this article, we’ll be diving into the impact that interruptions can have on productivity, and discussing common workplace interruptions that often hinder productivity, as well as tips, tricks, and best practices that you can implement to combat workplace interruptions in the future. 

The impact of interruptions on productivity 

The impact of interruptions on productivity can’t be understated. Not only is it important to be aware of the workplace interruptions that may hinder your productivity but it’s also important to consider how your actions may interrupt those around you. Frequent interruptions can lead to higher rates of exhaustion, stress-induced ailments, and an increased number of errors. A quick comment or chat is sometimes all it takes to set you or your colleagues off course. According to UC Berkeley, a brief interruption is all it takes to lose focus, and a simple interaction can take as few as 8 minutes and as many as 25 minutes to recover from. This means that every time we face a distraction, we run the risk of losing anywhere from 8-25 minutes of productive work time. 

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Common workplace interruptions 

While workplace interruptions are bountiful, it’s important to remember that the lines between work life and home life are often blurred, which means how we define workplace interruptions is continuously evolving. What would have once been an impromptu meeting or chatty co-worker has turned into a toddler in our workspace or a social media pop-up on our mobile device. 

Whether they’re pesky emails with enticing subject lines, unnecessary last-minute meetings that weren’t planned, your favorite influencer going live on Instagram, your toddler screaming in the background, or a busy thread on Slack with your coworkers, it’s safe to say you’ll never be facing a shortage of distracting workplace interruptions. 

  • Emails

While meetings are most definitely necessary in the workplace, they can begin to take over your schedule if you don’t set proper boundaries. Setting proper boundaries by updating your status or setting expectations for when you will be answering emails will help you refrain from responding immediately without feeling guilty. If you’re someone that constantly feels pressured to answer as soon as you receive an email notification, consider muting them when it’s time for deep work. 

  • Meetings

Meetings are beneficial however, they can also be an enormous distraction. If your calendar is full of meetings, it may be time to conduct a meeting audit and determine what meetings are necessary and what ones aren’t worth your time. Just because you receive a meeting invite, it doesn’t mean you have to attend. Take the time to set the proper expectations and attend only when a meeting has been scheduled in advance with a proper meeting agenda. 

  • Notifications

Notifications are arguably one of the biggest distractions that each one of us face. While you can’t avoid them altogether, you can pick and choose which ones are most important. If you know you’re likely to get distracted as soon as a notification pops up, mute the least important ones. 

  • Chatting with coworkers

Chatting with coworkers is an important part of building comradery and strengthening working relationships; however, it’s important to be mindful of these interactions, especially when they start taking precious time out of your day. If you sit next to a chatty Kathy, be kind and set proper boundaries. If you find yourself going down a rabbit hole with a coworker on Slack, simply save this interaction for when you have some downtime or aren’t focusing on deep work.

7 ways to combat workplace interruptions 

1Mute notifications 

Notifications are one of the most notorious workplace interruptions. While you may feel obligated to be “on” all the time, it’s important to remember the value of deep work as well as the negative impacts that multitasking can have on the quality of your work. Muting your notifications is one of the easiest things you can do to combat workplace interruptions and boost productivity. It’s important to remember that you can be flexible with which notifications you choose to mute. While muting all notifications may be the best course of action, you can choose to keep alerts on for any crucial notifications you don’t want to miss. 

2Use the time-blocking method 

Time-blocking is a scheduling format and productivity hack that helps users block out any unwarranted distractions to focus on deep work. When using the time-blocking method, it’s important to remember that each block represents the time that is dedicated to completing a certain task. This means that you need to block out certain blocks of time in accordance with the tasks you wish to complete.

For example, you may block off an hour every day to answer your emails so you don’t find yourself becoming distracted every time a new notification pops up. If you find yourself jumping from task to task or losing focus every time you get a new email, you won’t be able to focus on deep work and this may hinder your performance over time. 

3Find a distraction-free workspace 

Whether you’re working remotely or in the office, finding a distraction-free workplace can be difficult. If you’re in the office, you may be distracted by a fellow teammate. If you’re working from home, you may not have a proper setup that allows you to seclude yourself and focus on deep work. While you may find it difficult to always find a distraction-free workspace, it’s important to at least find a space where you can work with no interruptions for a couple of hours a day. Whether it be calling dibs on a shared work-from-home space for a couple of hours every day or escaping to a quiet coffee shop, what’s most important is finding a way to limit workplace interruptions so you can focus on deep work distraction-free. 

4Update your status

Updating your status on Slack to “Away’ or “Deep Work” is a great way to keep any notifications from your teammates at bay while simultaneously letting them know that now isn’t the time to send you a message. If they need to send you a message right away, they’ll be doing so with the understanding that you won’t be answering because your attention is currently elsewhere. Not only is this a great way to inform your teammates of your absence as you focus on pressing tasks, but it’s also an excellent tactic that can be used to give yourself peace of mind. Making it known that you’re busy with other tasks will give you the reassurance you need to focus on the task at hand without feeling like you need to check your messages or get back to your colleagues right away. 

5Put time aside for replying to emails

While you may feel compelled or even conditioned to answer emails as soon as they pop up in your inbox, it’s important to refrain from letting your inbox rule your time and energy. Setting aside a specific time to reply to emails will help you focus on the task at hand while simultaneously setting clear expectations so your colleagues know that while you’ll respond promptly, you won’t always be answering emails immediately. Freeing yourself of the narrative that you need to answer emails as soon as you see the notification is a great way to take a proactive stance against workplace interruptions. 

6Schedule breaks into your day

No one is capable of working 24/7. The more you push yourself, the greater the risk of making costly mistakes or becoming burned out. Taking breaks at various points throughout the day is a great way to refresh and re-energize so you can move forward with the tasks on your to-do list with a clear mind. If you often find yourself getting easily distracted by notifications on your phone or chatty colleagues, use your breaks to reward yourself with those interactions. Not only will you be making time for things you enjoy, but you’ll also be able to concentrate and focus on the tasks at hand knowing you have a break to look forward to soon. 

7Work near productive people

You’ve probably heard the quote by famous motivational speaker Jim Rohn that goes, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This is a great way of saying that you are who you surround yourself with. If you surround yourself with people who are eager to succeed and motivated to be better, you’ll find yourself embracing the same lifestyle. If you find yourself surrounding yourself with people that do the bare minimum, you may not end up being as productive or even as successful as you’d like. If you want to combat workplace interruptions, surround yourself with people who are equally dedicated to their work. 

The impact of interruptions on productivity can be detrimental 

The impact of interruptions on productivity can be detrimental to the success of your organization, which is why it’s so important to take a proactive stance against workplace interruptions; it’s equally important to recognize how your actions may distract those around you. Before you blurt out a question or send a Slack message to a colleague who has set their status to away, stop and ask yourself if it’s necessary or warrants an immediate response. Considering these tips, tricks, and tricks will ensure you’re equipped with the tools and knowledge you need to set boundaries and avoid distractions. 

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