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With digital distractions coming at us from every direction, staying focused can be — wait, was that my phone?

The average worker is interrupted by a text message or e-mail every six minutes. Here are some ways to tune out the noise.

dale edwin murray for the boston globe

Maybe it’s a text message from home or an e-mail from a client. Maybe it’s a push notification from that fantasy football league you forgot you signed up for. During any given business hour, there’s a decent chance your phone is buzzing — and getting in the way of work.

In the digital world, the average worker is interrupted by a text message or e-mail every six minutes, one recent study found, and 40 percent of employees say they can’t get half an hour of uninterrupted work time. Some companies are seeking ways to mitigate digital distraction.

“The horse is way too far out of the barn for organizations to declare a ban on Internet-connected devices,” says Joyce Maroney, executive director of the Workforce Institute at Lowell-based Kronos, which sells workforce management software. But companies can help employees tame distractions. Kronos offers a flexible work policy and typically doesn’t mandate being online from 9 to 5. That motivates many workers to focus on getting their work done, she says, because they don’t have to stick around once it is.

Some companies take more direct approaches, at least for part of the day. At CM&B, a Danvers construction management firm, top executives recently banned cellphone use during staff meetings. Too many people were just staring at their phones and missing the conversation, says vice president of human resources Kate Sullivan. “Meetings have been much more efficient” with the new policy, Sullivan says. “They don’t drag on, you don’t have people saying, ‘What did you just say?’ or repeating something that was just said.”


The biggest challenge for instituting that policy was getting workers to understand that they don’t need to answer every call and that other employees would handle emergencies during the meeting (phones can still be brought to a meeting, in case of an at-home emergency).


Other businesses have installed software that lets workers decide when they can’t afford to be distracted, forwarding phone calls to voice mail and shutting off e-mail alerts. And MITRE, a research organization based in Bedford and McLean, Virginia, even brought in a speaker to offer tips on how workers can tune out their smartphones.

One company looming over Greater Boston has special claim to the modern definition of workplace distraction: Facebook, with its never-ending newsfeed. Fittingly, perhaps, the Cambridge-born company doesn’t have distraction policies aimed at screens. Instead, it bars employees from holding face-to-face meetings every Wednesday, with a goal of “removing distractions and creating periods of uninterrupted time devoted to impactful work.”

Adam Vaccaro is a Globe staff writer. He can be reached at