How to Cut Off Your Distractions at Work and Focus on a Project

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Multitasking is one thing, and workers who are able to multitask should be the envy of us all. But interruptions in the workplace are quite a different thing, and should never be welcome. Now there's a university study to prove it -- and back up do-not-disturb policy at your office.

"People don't realize how disruptive interruptions can be," says Cyrus Foroughi, co-author of the study Do Interruptions Affect Quality of Work? and a doctoral candidate at George Mason University.

His data show the typical worker is interrupted six times a day on the job. That sounds like a lot, but just how distracting are those interruptions?

"There is value in determining whether interruptions affect the quality of the tasks that many people perform regularly, such as writing essays or reports," Foroughi says.

To find out, Foroughi's staff broke GMU students into two groups on an essay project. One group was left alone and the other was interrupted regularly.

Not too surprisingly, the group that was interrupted showed lower-quality scores and wrote fewer words.

"Interruption can cause a noticeable decrement in the quality of work, so it's important to take steps to reduce the number of external interruptions we encounter daily," Foroughi says. "For example, turn off your cellphone and disable notifications such as email while trying to complete an important task."

In addition, close your door or put a sign on your outside cubicle wall saying "No interruptions, please."

It's also a good idea to call out the cause of the interruption and ask yourself "Is this really a good time for me to be interrupted?"

If the problems persists, give a little, but only a little. Make sure the other party knows you have a five-minute time limit to discuss the problem. Better yet, tell the other party you'll be happy to discuss the issue -- but only after you're done working on your current task.

Also: Let your work phone go to voice mail as well as your personal phone, and close your work email page temporarily as well when you need to focus on a project.

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