Mindfulness and Distractions

Environmental Factors that Contribute to Mental Health

Prior to the pandemic, work wasn’t working. We are living in a world where we are constantly connected, and the in-flow of information seems never-ending. While many celebrated the fact that we didn’t have to waste time commuting while working remotely during the pandemic, there was an unexpected side effect. The lack of a commute meant we could start our day earlier and ended it later. Many people zoomed from one call to another and barely moved throughout the day. No casual connections with colleagues, no walks to lunch and no down time while in route to and from meetings. The stress of always being on, coupled with the lack of any mental or physical break over a sustained period of months expedited burnout for many individuals. The inability to disconnect is causing a dramatic increase in stress levels amongst workers today, with 70% reporting that they feel overwhelmed daily.

The World Health Organization (WHO) projected in 2017 that ‘techno-stress’, the stress of constantly being on and overwhelmed by technology, will be one of the biggest health issues in the coming decade. And a study by Towers Watson noted that the number one lifestyle risk impacting the workforce today is stress, yet it is also the factor we pay the least attention to. But COVID-19 has added fuel to that fire. A new report from the CDC in 2020 found that depression symptoms were four times higher in June of this year compared to the same time in 2019. In addition, anxiety symptoms were three times as high, a side effect of the pandemic. In 2020 the American Psychological Association reported that “nearly 8 in 10 adults (78%) say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives, while 3 in 5 (60%) say the number of issues America faces is overwhelming to them…Nearly 1 in 5 adults (19%) say their mental health is worse than it was at this time last year.”

Distractions can lead to a loss in productivity, but not all distractions are created equally. 43% of interruptions are caused by the usual suspects – phone calls, chatty co-workers, ad-hoc meetings. But 53% of interruptions come from our digital technology – instant messages, pinging of our phones, web searches, etc. And those distractions can impact us regardless of where we are working, be it in the office or at home.

We need to make work work again. To help people function at higher levels in the post pandemic era people are looking for creative ways to enable mindfulness and improve focus. For some that might mean enable them more control over when and where they work. For others, companies might need to provide a greater variety of work zones tailored to different kinds of tasks that give people more options, choices and control over their work environment. Consider these tips to decrease distraction at work:

  • Work in a quiet room or from home when you require intense concentration.
  • Use flex hours to minimize distractions
  • Be active and move around. Be sure to walk and exercise on your breaks.
  • Use private or semi-enclosed spaces to block out distractions.
  • If working in an open space, place yourself in a low-traffic area.
  • Decrease clutter on work surfaces.
  • Use headsets to tune out background office noise.
  • Turn off email and text message alerts and instead set aside ten minutes of every hour to check.
  • Provide active areas to release energy.

It’s time we all address mental health more holistically, in our personal lives and at work. The ability to disconnect and have time to be mindful and destress is imperative to foster physical and mental health, wellbeing, creativity, and productivity. We all want that. We all need that.


Senior Principal | Director of WorkPlace @ HOK


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Kay Sargent - Senior Principal | Director of Workplace (HOK)

Kay is a director of HOK’s global WorkPlace practice. With a passion for using design to transform how and where people work, she spends her days (and many nights) working with clients on workplace strategy and design. Based in Washington, D.C., Kay leads project teams that solve clients’ business and organizational challenges related to real estate business process, strategic planning, workplace strategy and change management. She collaborates with organizations ranging from tech startups to Fortune 500 companies to optimize their real estate portfolios and create the most innovative work experiences. In 2021, the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) announced the induction of Kay into its prestigious College of Fellows. Admission to the College of Fellows is the highest honor given by the IIDA and recognizes those whose design work has significantly influenced the profession. The American Society of Interior Designers honored Kay with its “Designer of Distinction” award in the 2020 ASID National Awards. The award is bestowed on an ASID professional member who exemplifies a commitment to the profession as demonstrated by a significant body of work representing excellence in interior design. Kay is on the international board of directors for AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association. She is co-chair for the ASID Foundation research task force and on the leadership team of IFMA’s WE Workplace Evolutionaries and the advisory board of Work Design Magazine. She recently served on the board of directors for CoreNet Global and the International Federation of Interior Designers/Architects, and has served on the international boards of IIDA, ASID, NCQLP, IFI and NCIDQ. She is an active member of ASID, IIDA, CoreNet Global and IFMA. Kay has authored numerous reports and articles on the workplace and has spoken at CoreNet, IFMA and other industry events. CoreNet and Tradeline, Inc. both have honored her as a top-rated speaker. A mentor to many, she is a founding member of the D.C. chapter of UPWARD, which accelerates career advancement for executive women.

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