5 Big Distractions From Productivity and How to Win Against Them

Last Updated on April 3, 2022 by Stephanie

We have all been there.  Honestly, my life as a teacher is an endless loop of constant distractions.  You sit down with the best intentions to get stuff done.  A coworker comes in the chat about something.  You take a moment to check your email and it turns into 30 minutes you didn’t expect.  You click on a link while you are researching something and then go down the Alice in Wonderland hole of the “interwebs.” There are plenty of people, the majority of the world, in fact, that can’t focus.

Distractions suck.

They are a big deal and can hugely impact our day-to-day.  Let’s figure out how to beat the crap out of them so we can get our big picture stuff done.

Woman on phone; creating time for life; 5 big distractions we face and how to beat them; why we can't focus

What are 5 of the top distractions, and why you can’t focus.

In a recent CareerBuilder survey, the biggest distraction in the workplace is using your smartphone.  Over half of the people surveyed said this!  44% of them said that using the internet was the biggest work distraction.

I absolutely get it.  Again, you don’t mean to, but you click on something and the next thing you know, you look up and you wasted an hour.  I saw several common themes while reading different articles for the purpose of this post.  Here are the top 5 distractions, in no particular order:

  • Email
  • Social Media
  • Internet
  • People
  • Multitasking (it really isn’t a thing guys)

Okay, it is in a particular order because I wanted to point something out.  The first three on the list are related to technology, and they are absolutely something we can take control of.  A lot of why we can’t focus has to do with technology. Now, let’s dive into each one just a bit.


If you haven’t already read my series of posts on Inbox Zero, check out the first part here.  I go into depth about email and how you need to get control over your inbox.  Email can derail your day.  Here is my biggest tip for email:

Check your email twice a day, turn off your alerts to a new email, and close your email tab.

You will thank me later if you do it.  If there is an immediate concern, someone will reach you.  Do not let someone else’s to-do list hijack your day.  Stop checking your email and get your own stuff done! Check out this free printable about what to do with different types of emails to clean out your inbox:

Inbox Zero; cheat sheet for processing your email inbox; picture of keyboard and computer screen

Social Media

I love my phone… I do.  As someone who has officially become a blogger, I need social media.  Apparently, I need to be on Pinterest my entire day, haha.  However, there is a time and a place.  I’m going to give you another big tip here: 

The time and place for social media are not during your work (unless you are a social media manager or in charge of social media accounts for your work.)  

Endless scrolling will not help you get your work done.  You can’t focus because of the endless stream of dopamine flooding your brain because of all the stimulation! Unless your job is to create social media content work on marketing for Facebook and Instagram, you don’t need it during the day!  Then comes the rationalizing: “I just took a 5-minute break and glanced at my phone.  It isn’t a big deal.”  Yeah, well, wait until you find out why distractions are a problem and how long that 5 minutes just cost you.  Another rationalization that I often see people claim is that it is their way to relax.  If you say in the next breath that you have no time to get anything done, I am not okay with that.  You can use that 5 minutes for something more valuable that will help shrink your to-do list instead.


The internet is AWESOME!  This article talks about some interesting data points about how much data the internet has, and it blew my mind.  Over 1.134 trillion MB of data is created every day.  347,222 stories are posted by Instagram users every MINUTE.  Click on the link to read more!

I love technology and think that, when used the right way, it can absolutely help us a lot.  However, you have to be mindful of your tech use.  Engaged use of the internet is awesome.  Engaged use is researching a specific topic or for specific data, using internet-based apps like google docs, taking online courses, etc.  Mindless use of the internet is where we get in trouble.  Mindless use is scrolling through Amazon after you get an email, clicking on YouTube link after YouTube link and watching videos, or scrolling the real estate pages when you know that you aren’t buying a house any time soon.

So you aren’t tempted to go back to the mindless activities, close the tabs for everything else!

Multitasking – You Can’t Focus on More Than One Thing at a Time!

I was writing this while reading Gary Keller’s book The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. Interestingly enough, I had just gotten to the chapter about multitasking.  This quote basically sums up everything about multitasking:

“Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.”

– Steve uzzell

In Keller’s book, he describes how multitasking has become a mainstream idea that everyone thinks they should do.  When you multitask, it isn’t really multitasking because your brain doesn’t work like that.  It is alternating quickly between two different activities.  This comes at a cost because of what your brain goes through.  You work on one thing, make the choice to switch, reorient to the other task, work, make the choice to switch, reorient, etc.  One might think that this happens quickly, but it doesn’t in most cases.  A task can become 25-100% longer with this process according to research.  Holy crap!  Researchers actually estimate “we lose 28 percent of an average workday to multitasking ineffectiveness.” (Keller, 2013)  If that doesn’t open your eyes to why multitasking needs to stop, I don’t know what will. If you can’t focus on one thing at a time, build that skill over time!


I get to my school by around 7:45 AM every morning.  Teachers don’t have to be in the building until closer to 9:00 AM when students arrive, but there I am.  This is because of people.  My building does not have early people.  I am one of about 5-10 people that get to school super early, and that’s how I like it.  I close my door when I come in and I work.  My email does not open until right before students arrive. I can get what I need to get done for the day by doing this.

Coworkers that you enjoy are absolutely important to your work life.  If you don’t like the people you work with, consider switching your position.  With that said, not even just social calls, but work-related “drop-bys” can be big distractions.  

  • “Can you help me with this…?” 
  • “What are we supposed to do with the…?” 
  • “I loved your presentation about… how can I help?”

Even the last bullet point, asking to be of service to you, is a distraction.  These will happen all the time, so we need to learn how to get through them in a way that will get us back on track!

Why are Distractions a Problem?

We’ve talked about 5 of the top distractions from productivity, and now we are going to hit home with why they are an issue with some interesting facts and points.

In a study at the University of California at Irvine, they found that “after only 20 minutes of interrupted performance, people reported significantly higher stress, frustration, workload, effort, and pressure.”  WOW!

Another study pointed out that, on average, it takes about 22 minutes before your full attention has been restored to a task.  This is because of what some call “attention-residue.” Some of your attention is still left behind at the other task or distraction.

Woman frustrated with her head in hands; thought bubble that says "how is this all going to get done?"; creating time for life; woman can't focus

These distractions can also cause you to get caught in a destructive cycle or habit-loop. You can’t get out of these easily. The need to check emails often creates a loop of doing things that you don’t need to do immediately.  In my posts about inbox zero, it touches on the idea of not needing to be immediately available for everyone.  If you miss an email because you were doing your job, you show the work you accomplished as an argument to stand up for your focus.

Now we know that these distractions are a problem. What are we going to do about it? What are some tricks or hacks that can help us get focused? How can we eliminate distractions and be our most productive?

Productivity tricks and hacks that will help you when you can’t focus :

Here are 10 simple ideas to try.  If you want to learn more about each one, I’ll be doing a post soon about them in detail!

  1. Shut out distractions. Literally shut your door or put on headphones so people know that you are working.
  2. Do the five-minute trick.  Tell yourself to do something for five minutes if you are having a hard time getting started. You will most likely continue to work until it is done.
  3. Keep a notebook at your side at ALL TIMES!  When something pops up, unless it is a one-two minute task, write it down and get back to work.
  4. Close all tabs in your browser except the one you are currently working on.
  5. Use the Pomodoro method. Work for 25 minutes and take a 5-minute break.  Every four cycles, take a longer 15-minute break.
  6. Practice inbox zero and only check your email twice a day.
  7. Schedule time for your stupid tasks.  These are tasks you know you have to get done, but only take you a few minutes each.  Don’t break up your big chunks of time. Do your hard work when you have big time.
  8. Create systems that work for you.  If you don’t know what I mean, check out my post on creating systems for productivity.
  9. Keep your phone in another room or another place in your work area.  If you have a small area, keep it face down or in your bag.
  10. Use your phone’s technology to help you focus.  Set time limits for apps, use the focus feature to turn off notifications at a certain time, etc.

Try these ideas out and see what you think.  Can you start minimizing distractions? Yes, you can!

Are there any interesting things you learned from this post?  Were there some tips you’d like to try during your next work session?  Let me know in the comments below or send me a message on Instagram (but not while you’re working of course…).  I can’t wait to see you win against these distractions and get stuff done!

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