Man sitting at a desk looking focused

Reducing interruptions: why 'focus time' is essential for workplace productivity

We’ve examined the importance of focus time for workplace productivity, offering concrete tips to reduce distractions and carve out some much-needed focus time.
Dom Murray, Content Writer

We’ve all been there. You have a mountain of work to complete, and you’ve finally sat down to begin. Headphones in. Eyes forward. Phone set to silent. You’re fully focused. Then, suddenly, you feel a tap on your shoulder. A colleague needs to ask you an urgent question. Five minutes later, you’ve given a satisfactory answer, and you’re back to it. That was a bit frustrating, but not too bad. It was urgent, after all. 

Twenty minutes later, you receive an email from your boss that needs a quick reply. Then, it’s a Slack message. Then, your phone lights up, and you can’t resist the temptation. Then, you need to attend a meeting. Before you know it, two hours have passed, and between all these distractions, you’ve barely started on the work you desperately need to complete. 

Does this sound familiar? Unfortunately, for many of us, it should. According to a study by Time Magazine, the average office worker is interrupted a whopping 56 times per day. That’s right, 56. Even worse, 80% of these are considered trivial interruptions. As you can imagine, these interruptions add up quickly, leaving just 8.5 minutes between distractions on average in an 8-hour workday. 

So, we’ve examined the importance of focus time for workplace productivity. We’ll start by analysing the frequency of workplace interruptions, before looking at the relationship between distractions and productivity, and finally offering three concrete tips to reduce distractions and carve out some much-needed focus time. 

Discussing distractions

As we mentioned, the average employee is interrupted a lot. According to a study by ReclaimAI, the average worker spends 1.96 hours per day on unproductive tasks, with other studies finding that office workers spend 41% of their time on ‘low-value activities’. These findings make sense, as a typical worker is interrupted a whopping 56 times per day leaving an average of just 8.5 minutes between distractions.

Pull quote with the text: A typical worker is interrupted a whopping 56 times per day, leaveing an average of just 8.5 minutes between distractions

Unfortunately, these statistics are only the tip of the iceberg. Research by Clockwise finds that 53% of employees waste at least one hour per day dealing with distractions — and one hour is a conservative estimate. 


Ever had that one Thursday afternoon meeting that you dread? It’s right in the middle of the day, just as you’re getting in the zone. Worse still, there’s no clear agenda, and most people leave feeling they’ve thrown half an hour down the drain. It’s the all too common cliche of a meeting that could have been an email. Now, imagine stacking those back to back, day after day. 

Unsurprisingly, meetings are a major source of workplace distractions. According to Indeed, the average employee attends 62 meetings per month. However, just 11% of workers believe that all of their meetings are productive, leaving far too many as unwanted  — and unnecessary —  distractions. 

Internal distractions are also costly

It’s not just external distractions, such as meetings and colleagues, that interrupt employees — many employees are also guilty of interrupting themselves. We’ve all done it, with studies showing that 44% of the time, employees interrupt themselves by checking things such as emails or social media. 

For instance, the average worker spends 1 hour and 5 minutes reading news sites, 44 minutes browsing social media, and 90 minutes reading and replying to emails or Slack messages. In total, the average employee receives 200 notifications per day. That’s a lot of distractions!

More specifically, research by the University of California found that workers attend to a task for just three minutes on average before switching to something else, usually a form of electronic communication.  

Getting back on track

All of these distractions add up quickly, with potentially disastrous effects. One study found that it takes the average employee 25 minutes and 26 seconds to completely refocus after being distracted. Other estimates put this figure at 23 minutes. Whatever the exact number is, it takes a long time to completely refocus, costing organisations hours of productivity every day

Pull quote with hte text: One study found that it takes the average employee 25 minutes and 26 seconds to completely refocus after being distracted

Not only that, but a study by Michigan State University found that even short interruptions, such as checking a text message, make you twice as likely to make mistakes in your work when attempting to refocus. 

Pull quote with the text: These distractions result in a significant decrease in productivity and an increase in the likelihood and frequency of mistakes

The bottom line? The average employee is interrupted an extraordinary amount every day. These distractions result in a significant decrease in productivity and an increase in the likelihood and frequency of mistakes.

When focus time increases, so does productivity

Given this, it should be no surprise that there is an inverse relationship between distractions and productivity. When workplace distractions decrease, productivity increases

Pull quote with the text: There is an inverse relationship between distractions and productivity. When workplace distractions decrease, productivity increases

For example, Clockwise found that 78.9% of employees say the ideal length of uninterrupted time at work is 1-3 hours, while 82.7% of people add that they need at least this much uninterrupted time to get real work done. Moreover, 89.4% of people say they are more productive when they have blocks of uninterrupted time at work. 

Pull quote with the text: 89% of people say they are more productive when they have uninterrupted blocks of time at work

Perhaps most importantly, 76.9% of employees agree with the statement: “my company brings in more revenue when I and my team have more blocks of uninterrupted time at work.” Not only does reducing distractions make employees more productive, but it also increases the bottom line. 

Additionally, Hubspot found that 86% of people prefer to work alone to minimise distractions and maximise productivity. Finally, Clockwise found that 75% of people feel more productive when distractions decrease, while 57% say they feel more motivated, and 44% say they deliver higher-quality work. 

Three essential tips to reduce distractions and increase focus time 

1. Take more breaks

At first glance, this may seem counter-intuitive. How does taking more breaks help to reduce distractions? Aren’t you just working less? The answer is twofold. 

Firstly, by taking more breaks, you can address potential distractions, such as your phone or a chat with a coworker about the latest episode of your favourite show, during your break. As such, you will be free to focus once you return to work. 

Secondly, and more importantly, our brains need breaks to maintain productivity. Put simply, our brains are designed for sprints, not marathons. They need time to rest, reset, and consolidate knowledge. Without this, our brains cannot function optimally. 

For example, a 2016 study by psychologist Karrie Godwin found that, during longer lessons, primary school students were distracted about a quarter of the time. However, during shorter lessons with more frequent breaks, attention and engagement skyrocketed. Ultimately, they determined that it was more effective to give students more breaks, settling on several 10-minute lessons rather than fewer 30-minute lessons.

Despite this, a survey found that 39% of people occasionally, rarely, or never take breaks during the workday, while 22% feel guilty or judged when they take a lunch break. Not only is that unhealthy, but it's also a poor way to improve focus!

On the other hand, a study by Microsoft found that participants who took meditation breaks between meetings showed brainwave patterns with positive levels of frontal alpha asymmetry, which correlates with higher focus and engagement. In contrast, participants who didn’t take breaks had (you guessed it!) negative levels of frontal alpha symmetry, suggesting negative engagement during the meeting.

For further insights into this phenomenon, see our article on why our brains need breaks to maintain productivity. 

2. Schedule focus time 

While scheduling focus time might sound straightforward, anyone who has worked in a busy office can attest that carving out dedicated time to focus is often anything but. As we’ve demonstrated, distractions and interruptions abound. 

So, how can you schedule focus time and actually stick to it? According to ClockWise, “blocking out time in your calendar for focus helps signal to yourself and to others that this time is valuable. To maximise focus, make it clear that you’re not available to meet or won’t address interruptions during your Focus Time.” 

While this may sound simple, the very act of intentionally blocking out ‘focus time’ in your calendar (or even telling colleagues about it directly) sends a strong message. With any luck, this may have dual benefits. Firstly, you will get the focus time you desperately need. Secondly, by setting a positive example, you may start a trend of blocking out focus time throughout the office, thereby reducing distractions overall.

Other helpful tips to reclaim focus time include: 

  • Using noise-cancelling headphones to block out distractions
  • Turning off Slack notifications
  • Setting your phone to do not disturb
  • Logging out of social media sites 
  • Actively telling your colleagues not to interrupt you during a particular timeframe
  • Using the Pomodoro technique 
  • Using online time management tools such as Reclaim AI or Clockwise, which can help to schedule focus time

3. Address the problem head-on with time management training 

Finally, we suggest getting everyone on the same page by providing dedicated time management training. Again, this may sound straightforward, but effective time management is something with which many people struggle

As Indeed explains, “many people don’t know how to manage their time effectively. Offering training in strategies such as the Pomodoro technique, time blocking and batching tasks can help your team start to develop focus time. This can help them gain a greater understanding of the need for dedicated concentration time and how to obtain greater focus.” 

By offering dedicated time management training, you will address the problem head-on and ensure everyone is committed to minimising non-essential interruptions. Often, time management training can be enlightening as people become more aware of distractions and time management errors they previously took for granted. 

They also become more aware of common time management mistakes (and the impact these have on others), such as chatting to a colleague when they’re trying to focus, booking unnecessary meetings, or checking emails too frequently. Usually, these actions aren’t malicious or intentionally distracting, but a symptom of poor time management or a lack of awareness. Ultimately, addressing the elephant in the room and educating everyone on these common pitfalls can be highly beneficial. 

To get started on better time management training for your team, check out Go1’s selection of world-class time management courses. 

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