Whether they come in the form of emails, texts, social media alerts or phone calls; a work colleague or fellow student popping over for a chat; or a quick look online to check that news website you’ve been following, distractions can be a drain on your productivity.

Researchers from the University of California, found that on average, distractions make you switch from what you’re doing to 2 other activities before you get back to your original task. As well distractions make you more likely to slip up, with experts at Michigan State University claiming that just a 3-second interruption can double your risk of making a mistake. But distractions don’t just affect your work or your exam revision; they can have an impact on your emotional health too, causing stress and low mood as well as lower productivity.

What can you do?

Whereas some distractions may be difficult to prevent, for instance when someone at work or college needs to ask you a question, many are self-inflicted, such as breaking off from what you’re doing to check your emails or Facebook. So here’s some of the ways you can avoid or reduce distractions:

Set aside time

If you schedule times to deal with distractions such as emails and texts, it will help you to focus on your job or studies more effectively. Ideally, choose a time to deal with distractions when you’re naturally less productive than usual – after all, you probably know what time of day you’re good at focusing on important tasks and when you find it more difficult to concentrate.

Switch off your phone

The telephone has become the thing that must be obeyed – when it rings we feel compelled to answer it, even if we’re in the middle of something important. It may sound drastic, but try turning your phone off when you’re concentrating on work or revising. Also let those around you know that you won’t be taking non-essential calls between certain times.

Avoid multitasking

Make a habit of working on 1 task at a time rather than dividing your attention between a variety of things you want to accomplish. Even if you have a long to-do list, you’ll find you can get a lot more done if you finish 1 task before starting another. Make a list each morning of the things you want to work on in order of priority. Then set yourself a number of high-priority tasks to complete – don’t just pick the smaller, easier tasks. Try not to feel tempted to start anything new until you’ve finished the task you’re working on.

Avoid the open plan

With many modern offices, particularly post covid, we’re seeing the rise of open plan offices. Whilst these are great for inspiring collaboration, when you need to focus, they can be an environment of endless distraction. So try to find a quiet space in the office or try to negotiate time to work at home if possible.

Develop your skills

Maintaining flow and not letting distractions ruin your productivity is a skill in itself. And like all skills, they’re methods and techniques that help you to improve. So why not sign up to course such as our on-demand ‘Do more in a day than you do in a week’. This course is not about working quicker or harder. It's about clearing the mind, defining what's important to you and getting in the flow.

Don’t forget to take breaks

When you have important work or study deadlines looming, try not to work through without taking breaks. You’ll be a lot more productive if you take regular short breaks from your desk, with occasional longer breaks for lunch or a stroll outside in the fresh air.

Taking a physical and mental break can help you focus more effectively when you return to work or revising, boosting your concentration and helping you to feel refreshed.

How CABA can help

CABA supports the wellbeing of past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and their spouses, partners and children up to the age of 25. For advice, information and support please: