Minimising Distractions and Time Wasters

Part of: Time Management

There are many things in life that can, potentially, waste a lot of time.  By minimising distractions and removing time-wasters from our day we can accomplish more and potentially become more successful.

Although the following list is geared towards the workplace many of the ideas can be applied to other busy times in life - when you need to get on and avoid as many distractions as possible.

By utilising just some of these simple ideas you can increase your productivity and make more effective use of your time.


  • When you’re busy turn your phones onto silent.

  • Use voice-mail wisely and set aside times to return missed calls.

  • Schedule times in the day when you will receive calls – let others know your schedule.

  • Have a personal phone and do not give the number to your boss or colleagues. Friends and family can then still reach you in an emergency.

  • When making or receiving a call: be polite, listen and clarify but try to avoid excessive small talk keeping calls as brief as possible. See our pages Listening Skills and Clarifying for more information.

  • Take calls standing up, research shows people who stand while on the phone keep their conversations brief.

  • If you agree to take on tasks as part of the phone conversation act on them immediately – even if this means adding them to your ‘to-do’ list.

  • Store numbers that you dial frequently in your phone or keep a list readily available near the phone.


  • Only check your emails a couple of times a day. Close your email client when it is not being used.  New emails flashing up on your computer screen can be a huge distraction and time waster.

  • Set up folders and rules in your email client helping to automatically filter and file email messages.

  • Schedule a block of time each day for sending and responding to emails. Don’t let emails build up to unmanageable levels.

  • Delete all spam emails immediately.

  • Delete all irrelevant emails immediately. This includes ‘general’ emails that don’t specifically involve you. People in organisations often use the ‘Reply to All’ function in their email client.  Although such emails may be relevant to certain people or departments if you are not one of them then delete.

  • Forward emails to somebody who can provide a better response if appropriate.

  • Try to handle each relevant email only once, read and respond immediately within your scheduled time. Once done file the email away.

  • Be wary of emails marked urgent or high priority… they may well not be.


  • Open your mail near a waste-paper basket and bin what you can immediately.

  • Deal with mail immediately if possible, read, process and reply or action. Aim to handle each piece of mail only once.


  • Turn off any instant messaging applications.

  • Close programs and documents when you have finished using them – file your documents in a logical way. This not only removes distractions but also means your computer has more resources for doing the next job.

  • Close web-pages after you have finished reading them. This is especially important for news or social networking sites where information is updated constantly.

  • If you are tempted to distract yourself with a computer game then either ration the amount of time you play or uninstall it from your computer.

  • Make sure your computer is protected from viruses and malware. Backup your work; use cloud storage or a USB pen drive to carry important documents and files but don’t forget to password protect it.

  • Work within your means whenever possible. Trying to learn new IT Skills when you are pressed for time can be a disaster, ask somebody for help or find a simpler way of achieving your goal. Schedule time in the future to learn specific IT Skills.

Arranged Meetings

  • Only attend meetings that are relevant to you. Is the meeting necessary and does it have a specific purpose?

  • Aim to arrive on time for meetings, neither early nor late.

  • Know the purpose of the meeting and get a copy of the agenda in advance. Arrange to leave the meeting early if it is only partially relevant.

  • Agree in advance how long meetings will run for. Start and end the meeting on time.

  • Use a timed agenda, especially for longer meetings or where the chairperson is less effective.

Visitors – Impromptu Meetings

  • Let people know when you are available to meet with visitors.

  • Schedule blocks of time when you can meet with visitors and refer to these as appointments – try to limit each appointment to 10 or 15 minutes.  The word appointment is more formal and people are less likely to think they are ‘popping in for a chat’ and more likely to come for a specific reason.

  • Learn to say no. If visitors arrive at an inconvenient time then politely explain that you cannot see them and schedule the visit for a mutually convenient time.

  • Don’t forget to schedule time to spend with friends!

Family Commitments

  • Use a calendar for which each member of the family is responsible for recording their commitments and activities. Include clubs and societies, social events, days off, doctor and dentist appointments, planned events such as holidays and car services, hairdresser appointments, visits from friends and extended family – as much information as possible so that each day can be managed effectively.

  • Use a tray or box for keeping important paperwork together near the calendar. Include appointment reminders, phone messages and other relevant documents. Throw away documents as soon as they expire.


  • When we’re busy we are more likely to have a shorter temper than when we are more relaxed. Little things are more likely to irritate us and we’re more likely to feel stressed or angry. Stress and anger will both potentially waste more time – and you run the risk of damaging your health and the feelings of others.  Always try to stay as calm as possible, let others know that you are busy and that you need time to complete your tasks.  People are usually understanding and may even offer to help!

See our pages: What is Stress? and What is Anger? for more.