7 tips to better focus in an open plan office

7 tips to better focus in an open plan office

Do you share an office with several colleagues like many modern-day workers? Working in an open space has its advantages. It’s more sociable and is easier to have a conversation. But the lack of privacy can affect your focus. Particularly after months of working from home in calm (or not) conditions, readjusting to the hubbub of shared office spaces is not always easy. Between ringing phones, unnecessarily loud conversations, people coming and going, heels clacking, squeaky shoes, those “do you have a minute?” inquiries, and other people’s annoying little quirks, how can you create your own bubble in order to finish up that important - and urgent - project? Here are seven tips to help you to stay productive even in the noisiest of open spaces!

1. Let your colleagues know

Are you working on a complex project that requires a lot more focus than usual? Do you have to present the findings of an audit to one of your key clients tomorrow evening, and you haven’t yet put together a single piece of your presentation? If upon getting to the office in the morning, you feel the atmosphere is a little too relaxed and it’s not going to help your concentration? Don’t hesitate to let your colleagues know about your urgent work and clearly articulate your need for quiet. They might also regularly deal with this, and will naturally be up to adapting their behaviour by not talking too loudly or coming over to speak to you without an urgent reason. Are you in the middle of working on something, visibly focused on the task at hand, but one of your colleagues is dying to tell you about their latest trek in the mountains? Ask them - kindly - if you can talk about it once you’re done with this project. Are your office mates talking a bit loudly while you’re on the phone? Let them know: they’ll either keep it down or take it elsewhere.

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2. Put your headphones on

If you’re able to, putting on your headphones or even a sound-cancelling headset will let you create your own bubble and soundproof yourself from the conversations or any movements in the open space. Some people will find inspiration in their favourite songs, others might listen to a relaxing playlist. If you spend your day with your headphones glued to your head, make sure you socialise during the breaks you regularly take during the day (having a coffee or lunch with your colleagues…). Otherwise, it might come off as standoffish, or like you’re avoiding everyone.

3. Adjust your schedule

If you have free access to the office and your boss and company allow it, opt for the quieter times to come in and do your work. Adjust your working schedule. You can arrive an hour or two earlier in the morning, finish later in the evening, or even take a later lunch break. Set aside these quiet moments alone for the tasks that need the most focus.

4. Ask to work alone

Even if you work in an open space, your company might have closed offices or meeting rooms. Why not ask if you can occasionally use one for a particularly tricky phone call, to prepare for an important meeting, to finalise a report… Your office doesn’t have those facilities? Ask if you can work, exceptionally, somewhere other than at the office (at home, for example.) You can even plan your remote work days accordingly when possible when you’re working on projects that require more quiet and for you to focus more. You just have to choose them intelligently. If you have a good reason for asking, there’s a good chance they’ll accept. And by pointing out the constraints of an open space, this could also push the company to consider setting up solutions that will benefit everyone: buying soundproofing elements, drafting of a charter of best practices, etc.

5. Share your annoyance in a humorous way

Those tics and little habits are a little more difficult to manage, but it’s better to deal with them quickly before it blows up. Does one of your colleagues chew gum a little too loudly all throughout the day? What about letting them know about the side effects of chewing? Does one of your colleagues make a whole lot of noise with their heels? Have you told them how good they look in flats? Does another crunch on salt and vinegar chips all day? Maybe they’d appreciate you getting them a bag of sweets. In any case, try to get the message across with as much humour as possible, without coming off as a buzzkill.

6. Work on your self-discipline

Even if it’s easier to blame our open space colleagues for our lack of focus, sometimes it’s you who lacks the discipline when faced with temptation or distraction. According to a University of California study, it takes 20 minutes to get back to being optimally focused on the task at hand after getting distracted. Remove anything off of your desk which could distract you (a magazine, a bag of sweets…) Turn your smartphone on its face so you won’t be distracted by any notifications. Finally, set aside time slots of 45 minutes -1 hour where you plan to work without interruption.

7. Work on your concentration

A few simple exercises can also strengthen your ability to concentrate. A series of 10 deep breaths in and out is a great way to clear your head of distracting thoughts. Test yourself by staring at and examining a neutral object (like a pencil or your coffee mug) for one minute, trying not to think about anything else. Or mentally go over multiplication tables. The aim is to free your mind and reactivate your neurons. At this rate you could even reach the highest heights of focus, and maybe even get to a state of flow!

Try it out for yourself!

Translated by Kalin Linsberg

Photo by Welcome to the Jungle

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