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It starts small. Maybe you mark yourself as “busy” on the company’s instant messenger program when you’re really not, or put on your “I’m headed somewhere important” face and walk at a breakneck speed just to make it to the lunch room unstopped.
But soon you realize you’re going to an awful lot of trouble to avoid your coworkers. And, as one recent survey found, they’re probably avoiding you, too.
In fact, the number one reason people would rather work from home than in an office is to avoid interruptions from their colleagues, according to a new survey by FlexJobs. Avoiding interruptions beat out commuting stress, office politics, a more comfortable work environment and fewer overall distractions as the main reason people try to flee the office for the comfort of home.
Just how bad are these distractions? According to a study conducted by the University of California Irvine, office workers are only able to focus on any single task for an average three minutes and five seconds before they’re interrupted. Interruptions included people, email, phone calls, chatter from other cubicles or offices and even our own internal interruptions (hunger, boredom, stress and sleep deprivation). More than half of interruptions are external, and 44 percent are internal. In theory, by telecommuting instead of working from the office, professionals can cut daily interruptions in half.
If you can’t magically start telecommuting every day, here are some tips for minimizing interruptions and getting work done at the office:
1. Address internal interruptions
These are the only interruptions we can truly control. Get to know when you’re most likely to be hungry, bored, tired or otherwise unfocused and plan ahead. Keep healthy snacks at your desk, mix up your to do list so boring tasks are followed by interesting ones or find a quiet place to take a power nap.
2. Give people busy signals
In addition to putting up the “busy” message on instant messenger, try wearing headphones (even if you’re not playing music). Stand to greet cube crashers to show them you want to move the conversation along and don’t have all day. If you face the entrance of your cube or office when you’re seated at your desk, move your computer to the back of the cube to face the wall when working. Sure, visual queues like these might be passive-aggressive, but they might also save you from many an annoying interruption.
3. Take advantage of the technology that interrupts you
Even though it might seem like the enemy, technology can be your anti-interruptions friend. Turn off email alerts, set your phone to go straight to voicemail or create an auto-response to text messages you receive that says something like, “In the middle of something; will get back to you later.” Block chunks of time on your calendar as “busy.” If your job doesn’t involve being responsible for urgent, life-or-death situations, no one will suffer because you’re off the grid for a few hours.
4. Ask for a more flexible schedule
Even if you can’t work from home full-time, maybe your boss will let you telecommute one or two days a week in the interest of productivity. Or, try rearranging your work hours to be in the office earlier or later than the crowd for some quiet time. Even being able to work from Starbucks for an afternoon can help you avoid interruptions.
5. Stop being so nice
The nicest people are often the busiest people, and when asked if they can help with something or take on a new project, they immediately accept to be polite or a team player. But if you’re already overloaded with work and feeling like you never get anything done, the last thing you should do is take on any new projects. Let people know that while you’d love to help, your plate is full.
If you find yourself at the end of many a workday wondering what you did for the past eight hours, interruptions might be to blame. By being proactive, silencing technology, working a more flexible schedule and letting people know, both passively and actively, that you are b-u-s-y busy, you’ll be less interrupted and more productive.
And if none of these tips helps you avoid interruptions from colleagues, pay attention to how people react to you in the office. You might be the interruption everyone else is avoiding.
Brie Weiler Reynolds is the Social Media and Content Manager for FlexJobs, the leading site for telecommuting and flexible job listings. Learn more about telecommuting and flexible work trends from the recent FlexJobs Survey: Why People Want Telecommuting and Flexible Work.