Seven workplace distractions that ruin ‘flow’

Image for post
Image for post

The concept of ‘flow’ refers to a state of mind where you are entirely focused on the task at hand. Typical characteristics of flow include:

· Having challenging yet clear goals

· Strong and focused attention

· A feeling of serenity and loss of self-consciousness

· A sense of personal control over the situation

This sense of immersion found in flow can be experienced in many situations — from playing sport to performing open-heart surgery. In the workplace, individuals who are capable of tapping into a sense of flow are reportedly five times more productive as those who cannot.

Sounds great…until your workplace instant messenger pings up on your screen and Janine asks if you want to go for a coffee and ‘talk’ about Mike. Then you get an urgent email from your project team which is anything but. And after that, with your temper already fraying, you spend 15 minutes looking through SharePoint for a document which, it turns out, is stored in the wrong library with the wrong metadata.

For most employees, these endless workplace distractions make the possibility of achieving flow practically impossible. To solve these challenges, it’s important to understand the underlying problems. So, let’s look at seven of the most common distractions in the modern workplace that ruin flow.

1. A noisy co-worker

Loud colleagues can be particularly detrimental to the focus of everyone around them. And even if that focus is lost for only a few seconds, it can take a long time to get it back to where you were with your work.

2. Needless notifications

Nothing kills focus like needless notifications. As research has shown time and again, beeps, buzzes and pings mean employees instantly lose focus on their work as they seek to discover who has been trying to get in touch with them and why.

3. Social media

Nothing says ‘time-waster’ more than Facebook in the workplace. What starts out being a quick look at what a friend posted often turns into a 1 hour (or more) time vortex. Shutting off social media when trying to get work done is one easy way to reduce workplace distractions.

4. Online shopping

eCommerce is great…except when it becomes a workplace flow killer. When employees start shopping around for the best deals, reading reviews and comparing products, hours can pass by before they realize the time they’ve wasted.

5. Pointless meetings

This must be near the top of any employee’s list of bug bears — a day full of meetings where colleagues talk about work rather than actually doing it. The result is a loss of the rhythm which is so important for maintaining focus and achieving flow.

6. Mobile phone

One of the greatest distractions in the workplace can be that ingenious gadget in your pocket. Employees get text messages from friends and family, email alerts pop up on the screen and apps notify them of updates which can be incredibly hard to ignore. The time spent switching context and looking at these personal apps can ruin the focus of even the most diligent worker.

7. Staring out the window

You may not believe it but, a final big office distraction is daydreaming. When employees spend the day thinking about what they’re going to have for dinner or thinking about their next vacation, workplace flow will falter. supports flow

Ensuring employees can find flow in their work should be a major goal of any business. It will make them more productive and positive and ensure they can achieve their potential. There are many ingredients to encouraging flow — from changing your workplace culture to banning the use of certain devices or websites. And, we believe that technology, so long a part of the problem, can also play a big role in helping encourage flow too.

At, we believe that technology should fit around the way humans work and think. With Collage — our AI-driven sidebar for Outlook — we bring office workers contextual content that reflects the way the human brain processes information. That means they are not forced to continually toggle between screens and interfaces to discover information, receiving distracting notifications and having to switch context to get the bigger picture. And that means they spend more time in flow, and less time feeling flustered.

Accomplished technology product and marketing expert, information overload researcher, award-winning technology and business writer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store