How to Keep Technology from Distracting You at Work

By Aliah D. Wright Feb 9, 2016
Reuse Permissions
Technology has forever altered the ways in which we work—or avoid work.

Employees have access through numerous devices, applications and platforms to vast amounts of work-related and nonwork-related information. While experts and studies say technological distractions are making us less productive, knowing more about technology’s capabilities could actually make us more efficient.

For example, Cornerstone on Demand’s latest Workplace Productivity Report found that 47 percent of surveyed employees were overwhelmed by technology and 16 percent felt technology was hurting their ability to be productive.

Companies are trying to address workers’ difficulties managing technology. They are eliminating voice mail and embracing apps that reward employees who shut off their mobile phones.

“It is estimated that interruptions consume 28 percent of the average workday and cost companies more than $650 billion a year,” author, app creator and productivity expert Geraldine Markel, Ph.D., told SHRM Online.

“When you are distracted or interrupted, you lose your focus,” she said. “Your efforts to be productive are thwarted. You lose your place when reading, writing or calculating; waste time getting back on track; and feel frustrated and irritated when you don’t complete tasks with accuracy or completeness.”

Markel said overwhelmed workers can take control of distractions in three steps:

  1. Identify the ways in which technology and social media drain your time and energy.
  2. Create a simple plan and schedule.
  3. Enlist support and collaboration. “Everyone is facing this problem, and others need to be part of the solution,” she said.

Productivity expert Mike Song, CEO of, a Connecticut-based time management training company, said people can learn how to effectively use technology to manage their time.

His videos show how to use the dictation function on iPhone and Android devices to quickly send better e-mails and how to organize e-mails within Gmail and Outlook.

Song said employees should focus on one task at a time.

“It’s more about disconnecting the dings, the pop-ups, the buzzes, the rings … because our human brains love information. We love to multitask, [yet] all the research seems to indicate we’re not good at it,” Song said.

App developer Steven Ismach agrees. Technology, he says, “has us doing a lot more at a lower level.”

Ismach teaches Talmudic Law to high school students as an assistant rabbi at Young Israel Academy in Great Neck, N.Y. “I see the distractions with kids and their phones,” he said. “Some schools are trying to integrate the phone into the learning experience, and even that balance becomes hard.”

For those who lack the willpower to shut off their mobile phones, Ismach’s app, OFFr, incentivizes employees to stay off their phones for certain periods of time by offering them prizes like gift cards or a free lunch when they do. (A timer records how long users have the app open without doing anything else on their phones.) Registered employers are notified when an employee participating in the app’s incentive plan hits a cellphone-free milestone at work.

How to Be More Productive

Author of Defeating the 8 Demons of Distraction: Proven Strategies to Increase Productivity and Decrease Stress (iUniverse, 2008), Markel is also creator of the productivity app 8 Demons, which aims to help people work more efficiently and without distraction. She offered these tips:

  • Collect information on the number of hours you spend on technology, both at work and at home. Figure out how much technology-related distraction or social media costs you in terms of time, money and stress.
  • Enforce an “electronic lockdown.” Stop using all technology for a 15-minute period so you can think, analyze and create.
  • Establish a “no-fly zone,” a distraction-free location in which you can easily focus and be protected from interruptions.
  • Stop unnecessary interruptions. Post signs that say things like “Please do not disturb, genius at work” or tell others the best times to reach you.
  • Learn to say no, nicely. For example, say, “Interruptions are really interfering with my work. Please help me out. Text or call after 6 p.m.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM Online.

Reuse Permissions


Choose from dozens of free webcasts on the most timely HR topics.

Register Today

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 3,200 companies

Search & Connect