For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a project at work where I listen to children talking. I can’t go into detail (confidentiality agreements), but suffice to say I sit in front of a computer screen wearing noise-cancelling headphones for eight hours a day. It gets very boring very fast. I try to be a productive employee, but I am getting distracted much more during this project than I ever did when I read the children’s responses.

What’s your point, Elizabeth?

This situation has me thinking about the different senses and how they affect us differently. When I am reading, I can tune out audible distractions like co-workers talking or the air conditioning humming. I can focus on what I am reading until the end of the essay. Not so much with visual distractions. Every little moment in the room catches my eye. If someone walks in or out of the room, I’m thinking about the color of their shirt or the type of shoes their wearing. I find myself staring at the other people in the room tethered to their computers with their headphones, and making up stories about why they are doing this wacky job.

Being a psychology nerd, I set up little tests for myself to measure different anti-distraction methods against my level of productivity throughout the day. Did I mention that I get easily bored?

  1. Control. I did nothing to keep me from getting distracted – 80 responses/hour
  2. Doodling. I randomly doodled while listening and filled up one page with cubes and flowers – 70 responses/hour
  3. Practicing handwriting – I practiced writing the alphabet and random words while listening. The idea was that moving my hand would occupy just enough of my brain to keep my mind from wandering – 100 responses/hour
  4. Keeping a list. Each response has a number so I wrote it down while I was waiting for it to load. The idea here was to give me something to do in the gap of time between responses where I am most likely to get distracted. – 120 responses/hour
  5. Closing my eyes. The idea here was to eliminate visual stimuli. – 100 responses/hour
  6. Closing my eyes and tapping myself on the forehead or tapping my fingers together. – 120 responses/hour.

I think it’s interesting that the tapping with my eyes closed worked better than just closing my eyes so I wasn’t distracted my the other people in the room. Also, writing a list worked better than writing random words and letters.  I doubt this means much, but it has kept me sane and productive at work. Many of my co-workers seem to be chatting with their neighbor or getting up and walking around a lot. If my little tests keep me focused, it’s all good. Maybe I will do some experiments on how to keep me from getting distracted while writing now.

Do you get distracted at work? How do you keep focused?