It’s hard to get work done at work. Office chatter, phone calls, and the familiar smartphone “ping” are hard to ignore in an open office. You’re also contending with email and Slack notifications flying across your screen. Your attention is everywhere and nowhere.
These distractions make it difficult to concentrate and produce quality work. There’s reason to believe office life will change. Distractive environments aren’t conducive to the long stretches of uninterrupted time workers need to think and create.
Until that day arrives, millions of workers need ways to make due. So I’ve come up with several ways you can regain your focus at work:
1. Find a quiet place to work
You’ll be amazed at the amount of quality work you complete in just one quiet, uninterrupted hour. To get that hour, you’ll need to escape the chaos of the open office.
There are options even for workplaces with limited space. Here are several suggestions:
Grab a conference room early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when it’s less likely to be occupied.
Find a vacant office with a door.
Go to the office lobby, which is usually only occupied by the receptionist, and crank out a bit of work.
The effort to find a quiet place is worth it. You’ll get far more done in one hour in a quiet, distraction-free environment, than two to three hours in a noisy office.
2. Protect your time
Identify your most productive time of the day, and then protect it like gold. Use this time to complete difficult tasks, like writing or programming. Save less demanding tasks, such as checking email and attending meetings, for non-peak hours.
One way to protect your peak working hours is to block your calendar, so colleagues don’t inundate it with meetings. Another is to avoid all distractions: resist checking text messages, making phone calls, and scanning social media feeds.
“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” – William Penn
3. Stop reacting
We feel compelled to constantly check and respond to email, text messages, and social media posts. This obsession has bled into the work world. It’s common to see employees working on one computer monitor and responding to Slack messages on the other.
However, reacting to digital stimuli at a moment’s notice is often unnecessary. Few things are so important that they need an instantaneous response. Plus, research shows that you may sacrifice up to 40% of your productivity by moving between tasks. So either write the report or respond to messages—don’t try to do both at the same time.
An alternative is to be proactive. Start your day with a plan that designates periods of work and periods of communication. For example, “9 A.M. to 11 A.M draft report” and “11 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. check emails and respond to messages.” When you stop reacting, you can start focusing and producing great work.
4. Work from home
It’s becoming more common for companies to offer the opportunity to work remotely. Try it, so you can work without distractions imposed on you.
If your company doesn’t offer remote opportunities, it’s still worth asking your boss if you can try working one day from home to see how it goes. Assuming your boss agrees, keep track of what you accomplish. Your productivity will likely soar when you’re not working in a distractive office environment. You’ll want to share this information with your boss to help secure a regular work from home schedule.
Above all, eliminating digital and physical clutter is one of the best ways to regain your focus at work. Only keep the essential materials on your desk and computer screen, so you’re not tempted by distractions. Move your smartphone out of sight, with the sound and notifications turned off. Close all digital communication tools, like email and instant messenger, so you can focus on the task at hand.
“Starve your distraction. Feed your focus.”
There are undoubtedly many distractions to contend with in the current workplace. However, there are some factors within your control. A few small changes can increase your focus at work, thereby improving the quality of your work and overall productivity.