Home Featured Distractions: The Biggest Productivity Killer

Distractions: The Biggest Productivity Killer

Distractions: The Biggest Productivity Killer

Distractions can cause distractions which can lead to productivity problems. With so many different distractions in today’s world, staying focused on the task at hand can be difficult. Our brains must adjust to refocus and lose as much as 40% of our productivity when we switch tasks.[1] Average daily time lost due to distractions is 2.1 hours

Some distractions can be obvious while others are more subtle and harder to identify and manage. For instance, the majority of you are aware that our phones’ or computers’ notifications are a constant source of distraction, but are you also aware of how your stress or anxious thoughts affect your ability to concentrate?

This article will help you understand distractions and how to overcome them.

What are distractions in a nutshell?

Distractions are anything that distracts us from the task at hand.

As defined in Merriam Webster Dictionary, “distraction” is:[2]

Something that distracts : an object that directs one’s attention away from something else

Diverse distractions are possible. These are some of the most popular distractions:

  • Electronic device notifications: Being constantly alerted by smartphones, computers, and other devices can cause distractions.
  • Social mediaUsing social media incessantly could lead to major distractions
  • EmailDistraction: It can be distracting to read and respond to emails all day.

It’s important to recognise that distractions are a natural part of life, and eliminating them completely isn’t always possible or desirable. It is possible to manage distractions and find ways to remain focused. This will help you increase productivity and reach your goals.

Why are we so easily distracted?

There are many reasons that we can become easily distracted.

1. Our brains are wired to resist distraction

Our brains must actively seek out information and stimuli in order to learn from our environment and adapt. This is an essential component of human cognition.

According to Neuro research, both humans and macaque monkeys are affected by the drug.[3] Instead of functioning continuously, our ability to focus is built to function in brief bursts. In between these bursts of concentration, our attention is diverted. During periods of distraction, your brain will pause and scan the surrounding environment for any other important information. If it does not, the brain will return to what you were doing.

However, this human instinct can lead to us becoming easily distracted. When we’re engaged in a task but hear or see something exciting, our brains might automatically switch our attention from the original stimulus to the new one. This can be especially difficult in today’s world, where so many sources of information and entertainment compete for our attention.

2. Distractions abound in the world we live in

Thanks to the internet and the advancement of technology, there are more entertainment and information resources available than ever before. This is both a blessing (and a curse) because we now have easy access to numerous tools and pursuits that can help in our education, and development. It can be difficult to focus on one task when there are so many choices.

Study results showed that brain regions have different ways of focusing on the environment. The type of stimulus can even impact the frequency at which brain waves are pulsing.[4]

“Neural activity goes up and down in a regular periodic way, with everything vibrating together. It is faster for automatic stimuli and slower for things we choose to pay attention to.”

This means that it can be more difficult to focus when there are so many distractions around us.

For example, you may be tempted check your phone for a notification while you work on a project. This minor interruption may make it more difficult to return to your work flow. Similar to the above, you might be tempted to click on a news headline while working on a task.

3. We have a short attention span

According to a 2010 Harvard study, the average person’s mind wanders 47% of the time, which means that you’re thinking about something else almost half the time you’re doing one thing.[5]

Humans have a short attention span, so it’s normal for our attention to start to stray after a while. This is especially true when we have to work on one task for a long time without breaks.

For instance, if you are working on a task that demands a lot of concentration and you don’t take any breaks, you might find that after some time you are easily distracted. This could be caused by boredom, weariness, boredom or just the need to get away from your desk.

4. Many of us have poor time management skills.

Poor time management skills can result in a lackluster focus and productivity.

  • Absence of clear goals and priorities It can be difficult to stay focused and not get distracted by other tasks if you don’t have clear goals and priorities.
  • Inadequate time allocation: You may end up switching between tasks, or getting stuck on the less important ones, if you don’t have a plan.
  • Procrastination: Procrastination can be a distraction as it distracts you from your work and makes things more difficult to do again.

It is possible to become easily distracted by many things, some of which may be present simultaneously. However, we can increase our productivity and sharpen our focus by identifying and managing distractions.

These are the 2 Types Of Distractions

We must first be able to identify where distractions come from in order to overcome them. There are two types of distractions.

External Distraction

External distractions can be anything that comes from outside. These external distractions can include interruptions, noise, and other stimuli which distract us from our task.

External distractions can include visual triggers and sound. Some examples of external distractions are:

  • Phone calls
  • Text messages
  • Emails
  • Notifications via the phone
  • Social media
  • Movement
  • Conversations
  • Noise
  • Music
  • Coworkers
  • Family
  • Pets

Quick Action Items

  • Eliminating external distractions as soon as you are required to focus is the fastest way to get rid of them.
  • You can do this by turning off your phone, wearing noise-canceling headphones and closing the office door.

Internal Distraction

Distractions that are caused by internal distractions are the root cause of all our problems. These are distractions that we create within ourselves rather than externally. They are your own thoughts and emotions such as worries about important obligations or enjoyable activities you’d rather be doing; and negative feelings you have regarding the project you are working on.

These are some of the most common internal distractions:

  • Negative Thoughts Anxiety, worry, or frustration can all be distractions that make it hard to focus.
  • Impulses: We can be distracted from our work by our impulses and desires.
  • DaydreamingIt is possible to lose focus if our thoughts wander and we start to think about things that are not directly related to the task at hand.

Our natural instinct to avoid discomfort is linked to internal distractions. As humans, we are motivated by the freedom from discomfort, not punishment and reward. We seek relief when we are experiencing mental or physical distress.

These unpleasant sensations and escapes come in many forms.

  • The truth about marriage problems and the escape offered by video games
  • Netflix binges are an escape from the reality of work stress
  • When you work from home, the reality is that it can be difficult and the freedom of not having to do house chores
  • The truth about a difficult life and how social media can help you escape it

These escapes are our distractions.

Quick Action Items

  • A trigger is what causes you to choose a distraction activity. Identify the trigger and feel the moment.
  • Instead of allowing emotions to dictate your actions, spend 5 minutes with them and try not to get distracted by the wrong thing.
  • Next, break down the challenge into smaller tasks you can tackle immediately.

The Price of Distraction

The number one reason for productivity loss is distractions. An average person gets distracted once every 11 minutes, and it takes approximately 25 minutes to regain maximum focus. That means you’re wasting six out of every eight hours of your day to distractions.

These are just a few more shocking statistics.

  • Personal distractions can have a negative impact on performance.[6]
    • 54% aren’t performing as well as they are supposed to;
    • 50% are significantly lower in productivity
    • 20% of people are not able to achieve their full potential and advance in their careers.
  • Organizational distractions can lead to company loss[7]
    • 45% of respondents reported poor quality work
    • 30% of employees reported lower morale due to the fact that other employees had to pick up the pieces.
    • 25% said that boss/employee relations had a negative effect on their work relationships
    • 24% of respondents reported missing deadlines
    • 21% reported a revenue decrease

Distractions can have a significant impact on productivity, efficiency, safety, and even life satisfaction. For example, distractions can cause injury or even death while operating machinery or driving a car.

Additionally, distractions can make life less enjoyable. You may lose focus on the important things in your life, which can lead to distractions that make it harder to be focused.

It is possible to spend hours scrolling social media or engaging with other activities that you enjoy but don’t have any long-term benefits. You can actually improve your life by focusing your efforts on meaningful pursuits that will help you achieve your goals and enhance your well-being.

Quick reflection

  • Think about how much time and energy you are wasting each day.
  • Multiply these hours by the number weeks and months.
  • Think about where you spend the most time.

How to Survive Distractions

Some distractions can’t be controlled, but others are really urgent. Sometimes you do have to take care of unexpected things but 90% of them aren’t really that urgent or important.

Most people subconsciously prefer to be distracted and allow the distraction to take them away from what they’re trying to focus on.

That’s right, you can choose to be distracted. You have complete control over distractions.

Distractions reflect an inner conflict. Distractions are an indication of something you’re still thinking about. Things tempt you away from it and compete for your attention because your mind hasn’t fully committed.

I’ll give you an example:

Consider the last time you needed to pee urgently… when you were completely focused on finding the bathroom. I’m sure those urgent emails and messages could wait. You were likely so focused on it, it was hard to distract yourself from it.

What is the deciding factor There was no doubt about that. Your mind, your body —- were completely dedicated to answering nature’s call.

Your subconscious mind made this decision. You can bring this decision to the forefront every day and actively activate this type of focus.

It is important to know how to use distractions to get into your head so that you can make a decision quickly and without hesitation. This is it. You can use every distraction to help you focus.

For more information, see my focus-boosting guide. A Comprehensive Guide on How to Stay Sharp and Focus (How to Stay Sharp and Focus)

Take Action

This focus-boosting guide is available: How to Stay Sharp and Focus (A Comprehensive Guide). 


There are many reasons we can become distracted. Each person will have their own reasons. Distractions can be caused by negative thoughts or mental discomforts.

Distractions can make it hard to concentrate on the tasks and goals that matter to you.

You must first identify your distractions in order to find your focus and overcome them. Then, take steps towards enhancing your focus.

Featured photo credit to Nubelson Fernandes via unsplash.com

Refer to

[1] American Psychological Association: Multitasking Costs
[2] Merriam Webster Dictionary: Distraction
[3] Neuron: The Frontoparietal Network’s Dynamic Interplay Underlies Rhythmic Spatial Attention
[4] Live Science: Why are we so easily distracted?
[5] Harvard Study: An unhappy mind is a wandering mind
[6] Udemy: Udemy In Depth: 2018 Workplace Distraction Report
[7] Career Builder: The New CareerBuilder Survey Reveals Some of the Worst Productivity Killers at Work

function footnote_expand_reference_container() { jQuery(“#footnote_references_container”).show(); jQuery(“#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button”).text(“-“); } function footnote_collapse_reference_container() { jQuery(“#footnote_references_container”).hide(); jQuery(“#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button”).text(“+”); } function footnote_expand_collapse_reference_container() { if (jQuery(“#footnote_references_container”).is(“:hidden”)) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); } else { footnote_collapse_reference_container(); } } function footnote_moveToAnchor(p_str_TargetID) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); var l_obj_Target = jQuery(“#” + p_str_TargetID); if(l_obj_Target.length) { jQuery(‘html, body’).animate({ scrollTop: l_obj_Target.offset().top – window.innerHeight/2 }, 1000); } }

Lifehack’s Distractions: Understanding the Greatest Productivity Killer appeared as a first article.

Continue reading…