Skip to main content

Beneficial Distractions: What They Are & Why You Need Them

By November 15, 2020Control Clutter
working from home with children

Distractions are everywhere. I believe there are two different kinds of distractions; those that are beneficial and those that are not.

Beneficial distractions provide a needed break from whatever it is you’re doing.

If you are the chief caregiver in your family, taking a break provides a necessary and beneficial distraction from your job as caregiver. You can take a walk, sit and read a magazine, or maybe just do nothing and enjoy the peace and quiet. This helps you recharge. You will take better care of those you love when you also take care of yourself.

Informal Breaks

If you used to work with other people at an office or in a school, you had some natural and beneficial distractions around you. When you ran into a roadblock, you probably stepped away from your desk and then run into people in the hall, shared an idea, and come up with an even better way to solve the problem or complete the task.

Maybe you met people in the break room fixing a cup of coffee or enjoying a snack. There you refresh yourself and share bits and pieces of what you were up to outside of the office giving you a necessary mental break from your work.

Schedule Breaks

Most of us work from home now and need to schedule these beneficial distractions. Plan your breaks so that you can be as productive as possible while you are working.

When we take a break, step away from our computers, and allow our brain to work on its own it refreshes. So, when we return to work the next step seems intuitive. This article talks about the benefits of taking a short break.

There are a couple of systems to help you schedule work and breaks.

One is called the Pomodoro Technique. This technique has you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. Do 4 of these sessions and then take a longer break before starting the cycle again. This is a great method for building beneficial distractions to your routine if you are working on something difficult and want to work for short periods of time.

The other system is the 52/17 system. This system has you work for 52 minutes and then take a 17-minute break. This review thinks the 52/17 method promotes better productivity because you work straight for a more concentrated period of time.

I think it greatly depends on the person and their preferred method of working.

What are non-beneficial distractions?

Non-beneficial distractions are those things which bother you and prevent you from concentrating on your work.

Visual Clutter

Does visual clutter provide a non-beneficial distraction for you? My colleague, Jonda Beattie, truly dislikes visual clutter. She needs to work in a space that is free and clear of clutter. I am different in that way. I have a few piles around me and am very happy with them. But, when my piles start to spread, I take a few minutes and reduce the visual clutter to a manageable level. When we work together in the same space (as opposed to virtually) I make sure I keep my piles on the floor or out of sight, so they don’t provide a non-beneficial distraction to Jonda.

Mind Clutter

Mind clutter can also be very distracting. Thinking about all the little things that you want to make time for can cause your mind to stray away from the work at hand. It is a non-beneficial distraction.

Keep a notebook handy to write down these ideas as they come to you so that you can capture them. Then you aren’t tasking your mind with remembering to remind you to remember them.


When you set up your workspace consider what is around you. Will you have distractions because of your work location in your home? Do you have a door on your office so that you can close yourself off if need be? If your workspace is at the dining room table because you don’t have a separate room available, do you need to schedule your work time around the other members of your family? Maybe you invest in a good set of noise cancelling headphones?

For most of us, our work lives are very different now. Learning to distinguish a beneficial distraction (walking the dog for 15 minutes gives us a necessary break, out in fresh air, and a little bit of exercise) from a non-beneficial distraction (visual clutter or too much activity around you) is a beginning.

Embrace the beneficial distractions and work to modify those which are doing you no good at all.

After all, distractions are what make life interesting. It would be so boring if nothing happened during the day to interrupt your workflow – right?

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer® owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC and co-owner of Release, Repurpose, Reorganize in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane specializes in residential and home-office organizing and working with people affected by ADD, hoarding challenges, and chronic disorganization. Contact Diane for a free 30-minute phone consultation. 


  • Seana Turner says:

    I’m like Jondie… visual clutter is very distracting to me. However, I don’t live alone, so I’m trying to be more flexible, especially throughout all of this COVID experience. I can see how used to having things “my way” I’ve become, and I need to let others have their way as well. “Zones” have worked for me, so when I need to focus, I have a place to go!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Flexibility in all things is really good. I’m happy to know you have a place to go when you need to focus without distraction and that you recognize during this Covid time that we all need to give a little in terms of the way we do things.

  • We have to work really hard to manage distractions. Mental clutter can be the worst. Even worse than physical clutter because it’s so random.We have to perfect are focusing skills to take a hold of that mental clutter.
    I really liked what you said about taking a break provides a necessary and beneficial distraction from your job. It recharges us and does help get us get back on track.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you, Ronni. I agree that mental clutter is the worst. I can deal with physical clutter. It’s the mental clutter that can lead me down rabbit holes.

  • The 52/17 system is new to me. I tend to work more that way, although my work patterns are probably more like 75/10. I write my blog posts on Sunday for a Monday posting. Over the weekend, several things happened that changed my usual writing time. Also, I spent too much time sitting at my computer before writing. By the time I began to write, it was late, my body was ancy, and I couldn’t concentrate. I decided to take a break, but it was LONG. I relaxed and slept. Then in the morning, I woke up extra early to finish my post. I got it done by engaging in a “good distraction.” While I’m capable of pushing myself, I recognized that I had a choice not to continue, stop, recharge, and come back with a rested mind and body.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      The 52/17 system was new to me too. Like you I tend to push myself and then take longer breaks. I don’t think that’s a bad thing as long as we honor our need for a break and follow through.

  • My distractions are when I have to move items off my desk to do something else that may involve more room. I recently started doing DIY projects for my blog again, but I did not have space. We had recently updated my daughter’s desk, so I decided to revamp her old desk. Now, I have a place for my craft projects, and they can be placed on that desk. No longer do I have to use my work desk and move things off in a pile somewhere else to do my craft project. Yay. This little change in my office has kept me focused on my work.

  • Last week, my teenage son tried the Pomodoro technique for the first time. He couldn’t believe that it worked! I love that kid.

  • Melanie says:

    Life is all about balance and having moments to reset are so vital to being successful in productivity (among other things.) I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro technique for getting through tasks that I have little motivation for. The timer somehow makes it more manageable because I have a hard out. Thanks for sharing!

  • Julie Stobbe says:

    When I have a big project to do I use 60 -90 min work, 15 min break. 60-90 min work, half an hour break and 60-90 min work. It works well for me to know how long to concentrate and then take the break for the entire 15 minutes. Don’t miss the break or you won’t be able to be productive in the work sessions .

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Sounds like a great system, Julie! I agree – taking a break is an important part of the process.

  • I have never heard of the 52/17 system. I’ll have to look into it.
    I plan some distractions, but really it’s more like “finish this and then you can make that phone call”.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Janet, it sounds like you work for rewards! I appreciate that. I give myself time outside when I have finished a certain amount of work.

  • Julie Bestry says:

    Fabulous advice, as always, Diane. I find it funny that clutter creates a visual distraction when I have some reluctance to work on a project; perhaps it’s the opportunity to procrastinate if I work in clearing the clutter? But if I’m excited about a project, I don’t notice anything. (Perhaps this is why I’m so able to ignore all the ads on the internet? I literally don’t notice them!)

    I’m fascinated by 52/17 rules, and I would have been willing to bet I’d heard of everything by now! I can’t wait to check it out. Thank you for sharing!