This Is Nuts: It Takes Nearly 30 Minutes to Refocus After You Get Distracted

De-stressing at work with a walk around the block, a few minutes of meditation, or easy do-at-your-desk exercises is essential for productivity. If I don’t get up from my desk or move my eyes away from my screen at some point during my workday, my brain will feel completely fried at the end of it (and not in a good way).

But taking much-needed and deserved breaks (intentional) are one thing—getting distracted (involuntarily) is another. There’s a reason that distractions threaten your work output: According to a University of California Irvine study, “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”

And if you thought that the amount of time you spend on email—1/3 of your office hours—was bad, this isn’t going to make you feel better.

There’s nothing like getting in the zone, crunching numbers, drafting proposals, or drawing up plans, and yet there’s nothing worse than being removed from your motivated reverie only to face a serious uphill battle to get back into it when you’re ready.

It’s not necessarily the distraction itself, which, arguably, isn’t such a terrible thing but the post-distraction period that’s the real issue here.

Even if you only get distracted a few times a day, the amount of time you lose as you struggle to get back into your happy work place is significant. Let me do the math for you: If you get distracted three times a day, you’re losing an hour of work. An hour!

So what can you do?

Well, limit distractions for one thing. There are a number of ways you can single-handedly do this. I recommend wearing headphones (you can play music or just pretend like you’re listening to something). You can opt to turn off your notifications, and you can also give the Pomodoro method a shot.

Also, in spite of the study’s findings, you can try willing yourself to refocus faster. There’s no harm in trying, right? The next time you get off track, see if you can’t force yourself to return to your zone in under 20 minutes. In time, maybe you get that number to just 17 minutes, then 15, then 12—you get the idea.

Or, you might consider trying the Instagram CEO’s five-minute trick: When you struggle to get into something, tell yourself you’re going to do it for five minutes, and, chances are, you’ll continue straight through until it’s done!

Nonetheless, you should know that it’s OK if some days are less productive than others. Tomorrow’s a new day, and this article will help you get back on track if you have a particularly challenging one.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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