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I suppose I should specify that I mean coping with distractions when doing work. If I’m reading a novel, or daydreaming, then it’s very easy for me to ignore any background noises. People can be talking to me for minutes before I realise and then I have to ask them to repeat everything they said. When I’m working, it’s a very different matter. The more I need to concentrate, the harder it seems to ignore the myriad distractions around me.

In the past it’s been a situation I’ve just had to deal with. I couldn’t magic myself out of the open plan office into something quieter. But even now that I have the opportunity to move to a quieter office, I don’t always take it. I feel I should be able to cope with the shared office because that’s what everybody else does, without a problem.

My other half is a perfect example. He can do some really clever work while watching a film. He can jump from meeting, to phone call, to desk work, without losing the plot or showing any outward signs of a nervous breakdown. So it bothers me that I find myself so easily distracted. Sometimes the quantity of my output suffers. And in the worst cases, the quality suffers too.

What am I struggling with?

As far as I can tell the main type of distraction is auditory, with some visual difficulties too.

  • In my office there is often music being played, I like music and often the choice is good but there are times when the tracks become repetitive and start to annoy me. Also, sometimes I really would prefer silence to help me concentrate.
  • When I’m at my usual desk I’m also expected to answer the phone and pass on messages or transfer calls. Some days this doesn’t happen much but it can happen a lot, sometimes in the middle of something important.
  • Often there is a degree of conversation happening in the same room. People even have meetings at their desk occasionally. This means I have to listen to their voices and sometimes I get interested in what’s going on. Sometimes I just wish they’d shut up so I could focus on my own tasks.

These three sources of noise often coincide. Even if I put my own music on and listen through headphones, I still hear the background noise and I still have distracting music to contend with. I also then have to pull the headphones off every time I see the phone ringing.

Compared to the open plan spaces I used to work in, this office is actually pretty good but it’s still not quiet enough for me to get in the zone when I need to.

  • Visual interference comes in the form of sunlight which bounces off a wall outside my window and sometimes makes it hard for me to see the screen. This isn’t usually an issue but it can be really annoying when it does happen.
  • Other interference is caused by using the track changes function when I’m editing. Somehow the addition of all that red makes it harder for me to continue spotting errors. I have to remember to switch the view to ‘final’ instead of ‘final showing markup’. At least this interference is easy to fix – I just have to remember to do it!
  • The final source of interference really shouldn’t be that at all. It’s the other jobs on my ‘to do’ list. If I have several items that need urgent attention, or all have the same deadlines, then I worry about finishing them all on time.
  • If I see new things coming into my inbox this makes it even worse. That means I have new jobs which I haven’t yet prioritised, and I don’t know how complex or time-consuming they may be.

I think I will try to switch off the auto-notification for emails so I don’t have that additional worry.

What distractions do you have to deal with and how do you cope?

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