The popularity of open office designs and the current high cost of commercial real estate has led to many companies operating in loud and crowded office environments. While it can be energizing to work in a busy, lively space, an office filled with noise and distractions can also hurt productivity and increase stress. More than ever, office workers are bombarded by distractions and interruptions that pull them away from their responsibilities. Originally, the open office was designed for team building and employee socialization, but has become notorious for its high noise levels, lack of privacy, and overabundant distractions. If you find yourself in this stressful situation, follow the tips below to remain productive and focused in a crowded workplace.
Most office workers are interrupted during the day with an overwhelming amount of emails, phone calls, and colleague pop-ins. Most interruptions are recurring and can be anticipated. Look for patterns in the interruptions (who, where, and when). Once you identify the typical triggers for interruptions, you can work to manage and minimize the interruptions.
Actively Minimize Distractions
Do this by turning off email and phone notifications and sending calls directly to voicemail, then schedule daily blocks of time to reply to email and phone messages. Don’t be afraid to use some kind of “do not disturb” sign to help deter in-person interruptions by colleagues. The idea of a sign may sound awkward or discourteous, but if you really need to focus your attention on a project, establish a signal that now is not a good time to interrupt you. It won’t be perceived as rude and you’ll be surprised at how many colleagues will respect the rules. The key to making this work is that you must also set aside times when you make yourself available for coworker drop-ins so that they know you’re not just rebuffing them. This kind of thing often catches on; when one person starts it, others quickly implement a similar system for themselves and next thing you know the entire office is quieter.
Like most people, many of the distractions you face when trying to focus are probably self-imposed; (such as chatting with coworkers in the breakroom or getting up too often for a cup of coffee). The solution to procrastination is to force yourself to work. Visualize what you need to do, break it down into smaller tasks that are easier to handle, and get it done. If you convince yourself that a task is too difficult or that there’s no point in trying, you throw roadblocks in the path of productivity.
The Mistake of Multitasking
What most call multitasking is really task-switching. Psychology research has found that people tend to only be able to fully focus to one task at a time. When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a limited amount and moving back and forth between several tasks is found to actually waste productivity as you never get completely engrossed in any one project.
Unwanted noise is one of the greatest obstacles to productivity in many office environments and one of the most common complaints among office workers; especially those in open office concepts where employees are situated together in a large space with little to no separation or privacy. If you work in a similar environment, you know how distracting the constant activity of a busy workplace can be. Consider the following to reduce noise and noise exposure:
Headphones or Earplugs
Aggravating sounds can be blocked out by music from a headphone or the silence of earplugs. Not only does music cut down on noise, it can help stimulate your mind while you perform monotonous tasks. Talk to coworkers and ask them to keep their noise level down, and try investing in some sound absorbing materials. Isolating all the noises through additional noise or blocking the sounds altogether ensures a less noisy environment in the office and reduces work related stress even further.
Plants are natural sound absorbers. Indoor foliage not only make your desk look pretty, they also reduce office noise by breaking up and reflecting sound waves. A hedge of plants not only provides a green alternative to cubicles, they also provide a more pleasant workplace and a lower level of background noise.
Be Strategic About Seating
If you can control the location of your desk, be strategic. Try not to sit near where people tend to gather (such as sofas or the coffeemaker), outside the meeting or break rooms, or near the copy machine. All these locations make you a target for interruptions. If you find yourself forced to sit near the kitchen or copier, use body language and headphones that signal “I’m working, please don’t interrupt me.”
Stay tuned for our Employer Edition with tips for how bosses can help improve employee productivity and reduce employee stress!
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