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The Teaching Space Podcast

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Nov 23, 2018

Episode 38 of The Teaching Space Podcast explores some strategies and ideas on how you can concentrate more and be distracted less. 


One of the biggest challenges of being a teacher or trainer is that we have such small gaps of time between sessions to get non-teaching work done. As a result, we attract more interruptions than most! (Perhaps not “more”, it’s just they are condensed into a shorter space of time). We also have a tendency to get distracted easily (again, because we are required to get focussed quickly and we don’t have long).

Distractions and interruptions fall into two categories: people and things. I will tackle both together.

My Top Six

Here are my top six workplace distractions and interruptions, and techniques for managing them.

1. People (Physical Interruptions)

  • When someone walks over to your desk to talk to you, stand up. This sends the message you don’t have time for a casual visit and will help them realise they need to get to their point quickly.
  • When interrupted, state immediately that you only have X minutes to talk.
  • Wear headphones (big ones, not tiny ear buds) so prospective interrupters can see you are working in a focussed state and they should only interrupt you if it’s necessary.
  • Work in an alternative location.

It’s important to note that if a learner is in need, you want them to come to you. The consequences of them not doing so could be disastrous.

2. Meetings

  • If you schedule a one hour meeting, it will take an hour, even if you could have successfully completed the meeting in just 20 minutes. This is an example of Parkinson’s Law. 
  • Where possible, schedule short meetings and ensure they fit with your calendar. If you are a Google Calendar user, consider adjusting your settings so that your default meeting time as short as possible. Also, enable Speedy Meetings.
  • Is it necessary to meet at all? Can you make use of team collaboration software solutions such as Slack or Google Hangouts?
  • Check out Episode 23 of the podcast for more ideas.

3. People Noise

  • Use noise cancelling headphones. The noise cancelling benefits are fairly obvious, but if you work in a busy place where people often interrupt you, wearing headphones sends potential interrupters a visual cue you are concentrating.
  • Make more noise! Although it sounds counterintuitive introducing more noise into your environment can help. Research suggests that noise itself isn’t distracting, but unwanted speech noise is. This makes sense, doesn’t it? If you tune in to a conversation, you cannot help but try to listen to what is being said. This forces an unwanted task-switch. Adding a continuous, low-level ambient sound to an environment (such as white noise, which sounds similar to the sound of airflow) can help mask unwanted speech noise, making it much easier to ignore. My favourite app for this is called Noizio.

4. Brain Noise

  • If your busy brain is preventing you from single-tasking, get a whiteboard. Every time an idea or new to-do item pops into your head, write it on the whiteboard. You then won’t lose that thought and it can be dealt with later, allowing you to focus on the task in hand. 
  • Brain noise prevents many people from concentrating for long periods of time, so why not use a timer define focus periods? Experiment with using the Pomodoro Technique (more in episode 12 of the podcast).

5. Email, Internet and Social Media  

  • Close your email program.
  • Disable email notification across all devices.
  • Only answer emails at set times throughout the day (for example 10 am, 12 noon and 3 pm). Put these slots on your calendar; set alarms if you need to.
  • Mention your email answering time slots on your auto-signature or out of office message to manage people’s expectations.
  • Use an internet blocking app such as  Freedom to block distracting websites for times when you need to focus.

6. Mobile Devices (Messages, Calls and Notifications)  

  • Turn off all push notifications - “use” your mobile device, ensure it does not “use” you. I think I’ve mentioned this…!
  • Switch to flight safe mode when you want to focus on something other than your mobile device.
  • Move your mobile device out of your eye line.  

Wrap Up

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