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This is a guest post by Timo Kiander. Timo’s an athlete, a dad and a full-time blogger at He is also a self-publisher. His last book is devoted on overcoming procrastination.

NB! At the end of the blog post there’s a special bonus exclusively for the Swipes readers. Find it at the end.

Did you know that we have a common enemy in our workplace?

This enemy will make us procrastinate, miss deadlines, put us off track and make us witness helplessly the growth of our task list.

Yes, you guessed it right: this enemy is the interruptions and distractions we face every day at work.

But things don’t have to be this way. In fact, you can do certain things to fix this situation, things that will give you a better level of concentration and therefore have better job satisfaction.

Apply these tips, whether you are working in a home office or a cubicle, and see how they affect your work performance.

Distraction comes in two flavors

Interruptions come in many types, and I’d like to divide them into two categories:

  • Internal: what happens inside your head when you work
  • External: other people and communication tools

Internal distractions

In the first scenario, your ability to focus on your work has been disrupted somehow. No matter how hard you try to concentrate, your mind just starts wandering. In this case, I have two great tips to share with you.

Power naps

First, if your inability to focus comes from being too tired and you can actually take a powernap, then do so. In other words, go to sleep for 20 minutes (preferably in a dark room, under a blanket), wake up and then get back in the groove as usual.

I have used this strategy for years and it hasn’t failed me yet. My concentration and productivity are so much better after I take a quick nap.

Distraction list

If your mind is filled with thoughts and ideas and they won’t let go until you have done something about them, there is a simple way to handle the situation. This simple thing is called a distraction list. In essence, it’s just a piece of paper that sits on your desktop.

As soon as a new idea or thought pops into your head, you write this idea down on the paper. And finally, when the day is over, you process the items on your paper, either by taking action on the items instantly (if they take just a couple of minutes to execute), delete them (if the idea sounds silly afterwards) or schedule them (if it takes too much time to handle them now).

External distractions

In the second scenario, the source of distraction is elsewhere, like caused by other people or by the communication tools you have. In this context, the potential solutions could be as follows:

  • Ask others kindly

  • Change your location

  • Send the right signal

  • Be selfish

  • Clever usage of communication tools

Let’s go through these ideas in more detail.

Ask others kindly

The first simple solution is to ask people nicely around you to quiet down. Yelling is certainly effective, but it has negative consequences, like jeopardizing the relationships with your colleagues. So instead of yelling, speak in a nice way when making your requests. This way, you are not “burning or damaging bridges” with other people in the office.

If you work at home and the people causing distractions are your family members, this same strategy can applied too. Another way to deal with this issue is to set clear boundaries by stating when you work and at what times you don’t want to be disturbed.

A family calendar is also a great tool for informing other family members about what is going on, especially if it’s kept up-to-date regularly. In our home, the calendar is on the kitchen wall and it shows the things that others should be aware of (like I want to have a quiet home when I have a podcast).

Change your location

There are times when asking won’t have the desired effect, and that’s when you should do something else. In this case, changing location could cut out the distractions very effectively.

If you work in a cubicle, switching over to a home office for the rest of the day could help you improve your productivity level. If this is not possible, try booking a meeting room in order to focus properly on your tasks.

Another option is to switch to working in a coffee shop or in a library. Although you might encounter noise in those places too – especially in a coffee shop – it can indeed help you to focus better on your work.

If you decide to leave your home office or cubicle for this other environment, make sure that you also pick the right kinds of tasks for those places. Talking about confidential matters or handling sensitive papers in a public environment, like in a coffee shop, is not an appropriate thing to do.

Also, make sure to communicate with your family members or colleagues where you are working if it’s not in your regular workplace.

Send the right signal

We already talked about communicating with other people in order to improve your focus. There are two other ways to do this, and they help especially in situations when someone just randomly pops into your workstation and starts a conversation with you, even when you are in the middle of a task.

First, send a signal that lets the person know that you are working. This can be sent by putting a “do not disturb” sign on your workstation, which communicates that you are unavailable right now. If you have a dedicated work room, either at work or at home, a closed the door is also a great signal to notify others of your unavailability.

Next, you might also consider buying noise-isolating headphones to quiet the surrounding environment down. But understand that even if you aren’t listening to music or a podcast, they have another surprising benefit: they send a message that you want to focus on your work.

Very often in my previous day job as a programmer, I listened to some music while I was working. From that people knew I was working and they didn’t interrupt me, unless it was really something important.

Even at those times when I was just sitting with my headphones on (without listening to anything), people thought I was working and left me alone. So you might try this trick in your office too, to see how well it works.

Be selfish

Next, we have the two-letter word that can do wonders for your productivity. Even though the word is simple, it’s not the easiest one to say. This word is “no”.

Sometimes you just have to turn a request down, but the way you do it makes all the difference. So rather than being rude towards the other person, say “no” a nice way. In addition, make sure to justify why you don’t have the opportunity to fulfil that request right now.

Obviously, you will want to evaluate the request well first before saying “no”. For instance, if someone asks for your help in an emergency, your job is to help. But if it’s a co-worker who is trying to get you to do his work, then saying “no” is justified.

Clever usage of communication tools

The common advice is to mute your phone, stop checking your e-mail and close your instant messenger when working. This information is good, but let me add some other tips to the mix.

First, schedule times for your phone and e-mail, if possible. Try to batch-process all the messages at once. And by the way, the same advice can be applied to your social media activity too.

Then, instead of just muting your phone, turn the device upside down too. I don’t know about your phone, but my smartphone is a great attention-grabber, even when it’s muted. The fact is that every time there is an incoming call or message, the activated screen will capture my attention, making it very hard for me to resist responding to the call or message.

You can also put a permanent vacation responder on your e-mail, letting everyone know that you are unavailable when you answer your e-mail. This sets the right expectation and other people won’t expect you to reply to their messages within the next 10-minutes.

For instance, this is the responder I have in my e-mail:

Subject: I don’t accept guest posts or ads on my site, nor do I review products.

Hi there!

Thanks for reaching out!

If your e-mail was about displaying ads on my site or writing guest posts for my blog, the answer is “no”. I don’t review any products either.

I may sometimes make exceptions to this rule, but if you don’t hear anything back from me in the next 48-hours, consider your request to be declined.



Finally, there is nothing stopping you from starting to treat your inbox like a regular mailbox. In other words, rather than constantly checking your e-mail, determine two (or three times maximum) times in the day when you check your inbox.

This is exactly what you do with your regular mailbox too: you might get a morning paper and another set of mail in the afternoon. Occasionally you might also receive some evening mail too.

Since you know the times the mail arrives, there is no need to constantly check your mailbox for new letters or papers.


As you can see, distraction can come in many forms, and it’s important to handle it as much as possible in order to keep your productivity levels up. I hope that with these tips, you will be able to concentrate better on your work and your days become more fulfilling.

5 Extra Focusing Tips for Attention Mastery

But wait, there is even more! I have compiled a list of 5 additional tips that can help you to improve your focus and get more done!

This document is exclusive to the SwipesApp audience and you can download it here.

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