How Do I Stop Coworkers From Distracting Me While I’m Trying To Work?

Isn’t wearing headphones a sign that I’m working and BUSY??!!!!

We have an open floor plan with lots of noise.  Some days I need my headphones to block it out.

That doesn’t keep people from interrupting me though!

Here are the list of people I don’t mind interrupting me when my headphones are on:  my boss, or her boss.

Here are the list of people that should not be interrupting me:  Anyone else.

The truth is….I don’t go to anyone else’s desk to interrupt them, and I don’t feel like it should happen to me either.

Yes, I know people are being social.  One person that constantly interrupts me has nothing to do with my area AT ALL.  In other words, they aren’t there to see me for work reasons.  Hence the earbuds!!!!!!!!

I know I will never say anything.  But I saw this great story on LifeHacker!

distraction zone

distraction zone

That picture??  It’s pretty close to what happens to me daily.  Except I have earbuds in, and peeps still talk at me.

Ha!!  No, I didn’t write this but …..

Dear Lifehacker,
I have a few coworkers that always seem to be at my desk talking to me. Whether I’m in the middle of a task and obviously working or I’m trying to talk on the phone or I’m having lunch or a snack at my desk, these folks keep coming up to socialize. I like them, and our office environment is pretty casual, so I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but how can I make them stop bothering me when I’m trying to work or eat at my desk?
Not-So-Chatty Kathy

Dear Not-So-Chatty Kathy,
I can’t begin to explain how much I understand where you’re coming from. In my last office job, I had to deal with the same thing—coworkers coming up and hanging over your desk and socializing endlessly, even if you clearly were in the middle of working on something, or had your lunch out, visible, and getting cold on your desk. Thankfully, there are a few ways to drive them off without being a jerk, or psyche them into leaving you alone. Here are a few of them.

Wear Headphones or a Headset While Working

One surefire way to make your colleagues think you’re busy or focusing is to wear headphones—preferably a good noise-cancelling pair. When I worked in an office, I couldn’t really focus without music, so wearing a set of earbuds or headphones was always in order. Some of my colleagues preferred wearing noise-canceling headphones while they worked, even if they just turned on the noise cancellation but didn’t listen to music. Either way, I found that more people will pass your desk and leave you alone without bothering you so you can work or eat if you’re wearing a full set of headphones instead of a pair of tiny earbuds. It’s likely wearing headphones just makes it more obvious you’re busy, while someone might not notice a pair of earbuds until they’re already up to the side of your desk trying to get your attention.

  • Be uninteresting. This is a spin on exploiting their weakness. If your coworker wants to talk sports, make sure to tell them you’re not really intereested in them. If they ask if you saw the game last night, let them know that you didn’t, even if you did. They likely will still give you the highlights, but they won’t go over the play-by-play if it’s clear you’re uninterested in what they’re talking about. The same applies for other topics of conversation as well. Eventually your chatty coworker won’t want to explain why everything they like is cool to you, and just go find someone they can have a two-sided conversation with.

Start Eating Anyway, or Find Another Place for Lunch

If the trouble is that your coworkers are bothering you while you’re trying to eat, one great way to make them go away is to start eating anyway. If you need to heat up your food, pick it up and stand up, and just go heat it up. If they follow you, they follow, but they likely won’t follow you all the way to the microwave, talk while you’re heating your food, and then follow you back while you sit and enjoy it. If you have a sandwich, just start to open it and set up your meal while they yammer away at you. When you’re finished, stop for a bit, and look at them. Most people at this point will get the drift that you’ve set out your meal, and you’re waiting for them to leave so you can eat it. If your coworker catches you while you’re eating, don’t stop—after a couple of bites or forkfuls while they’re standing there, they should pick up that you’re busy and leave you alone.

Still, if your colleagues were most people, you wouldn’t have this problem, so it might be worth just telling them that you’re eating, and you’d like to get back to them when you’re finished your meal. Alternatively, it might be time to find another place to eat—maybe somewhere in the building with Wi-Fi so you can take your laptop with you, or your smartphone, and relax while you eat, or even work while you eat if you prefer, just not at your desk. We’re not huge fans of working through lunch anyway—you need the time to relax and recharge—but if you must work or eat at your desk, send your coworker all the right non-verbals that they’re intruding, and if they still don’t get the point, let them know it. Gently, of course.

Be Up-Front and Ask

Of course, all of these options are a bit passive-aggressive, and try to get the point across to your coworker without expressly telling them to go away because you’re busy or eating lunch and want some privacy. You’re relying on non-confrontational methods to get the job done, and while they may work, they’re always less effective than just telling your coworker “Do you mind if I stop by and catch up with you later? I want to finish my lunch,” or “I’m really buried right now. Mind if we chat another time?” If nothing else works, or if everything else here makes you cringe and you just want to deal with it head on, go this route.

Remember, being assertive is not the same as being aggressive, and thinking the two are the same will get paralyze you from drawing the boundaries you need in the office to get your work done and stay productive without distractions. You don’t have to be mean or rude to tactfully tell a colleague who just has to tell you how their fantasy football league is doing or what their kid did last night or what they saw on TV the night before to leave you alone while you hunker down on a report that’s due in an hour.




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