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The Secret to Tuning Out the Noise at Work

No matter what you do for a living, you're likely working with noise around you.

It may not be traditional acoustic distraction like a co-worker's chitchat or a construction site outside your window. Instead, the "noise" you confront might be:

-- The pile of dishes in the sink if you're on a work-from-home day.

-- Competing demands for your time, like figuring out when to finally make a doctor's appointment or schedule lunch with a colleague.

-- The addictive pull to check Facebook one more time.

-- The temptation to join in a daily gossip session with your cubemate even though you have a report due in two hours.

The fact is that thanks to the reality of "always on" communications, the siren call of smartphones and the work-life complexities that have escalated in their wake, workplace distractions have become the surround-sound backdrop to our working days. And this takes a toll -- as Udemy for Business states in its 2018 Workplace Distraction Report: "Noisy, interruption-prone offices make employees unmotivated, stressed, and frustrated."

Nearly half of employees in the Udemy survey say that reducing workplace distraction makes them feel happier at work, with three-quarters reporting that it helps them get more done and be more productive.

[See: 16 Low-Stress Jobs.]

Regardless of your unique "noise" profile, however, there are steps you can take to drown out the inessential and hone in on what matters most to creating a successful day in the office (or working outside of it). Taking those steps, though, requires first tuning in to an important secret that relates to why so many people are wallowing in minutia rather than checking goals off of their to-do list. That secret is that the noise around you need not control you -- you are the one in charge of where you direct your time and energy, once you learn to harness the power of focus.

To cut through the multitude of distractions that keep you from doing what you want and need to do during your working hours, a reasonable starting point is to become aware of how often you confront the three common time-consumers below. Then take the following steps to improve how effectively you leverage your focus in each of these situations.

People talking. One of the biggest and most unavoidable distractions in most work settings is the buzz of conversations, both around you and directed toward you. While most would agree that talking to colleagues is important, getting drawn into irrelevant chatter at the wrong time can steal your focus and derail progress toward your day's most critical objectives.

Getting around this is often best accomplished by physically removing yourself from the fray. If you have an urgent project to finish and hear a cluster of co-workers nearby chiming in on last night's happy hour, it may be smart to take your laptop to a conference room to finish up the final page of your report before you lose your train of thought.

Inessential meetings. Office meetings show up on practically every list of interruptions and time-wasters, mostly because their guest lists often include people who don't really need to be there. While you may not be in a position at work to excuse yourself from a meeting that you've been asked to attend, it's worth a try to talk to your boss and request receiving the key details from a post-meeting email or a two-minute wrap-up, rather than sitting through an hour or more of discussion that doesn't directly concern you. By getting a "hall pass" out of even one meeting per day, you'll recoup that valuable time to direct toward your actual deliverables.

Work-from-home chores. Remote work is now ubiquitous, and so are the distractions that may accompany it, such as trying to meet a deadline while surrounded by undone housework, or a family member rapping at your door to ask a question. The best way to tune out domestic noise when you have a job that you're being paid to do is to remember this regarding chores: Just don't do it (right now). Even if you are in your own house, you're still donning the hat of "employee" or "entrepreneur" during the hours that you've agreed to be available for business.

If you find yourself unable to walk past the pile of unfolded laundry while you're supposed to be working, then it may be time to relocate your home office to a library, coffee shop or co-working space when you work remotely.

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