While offices and coworking spaces were designed to aid collaboration and communication amongst teams and colleagues, if you need to concentrate on a solo project, they can be noisy and distracting. Studies have found that once distracted, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task at hand! That’s a lot of lost time if your office is regularly noisy and distracting.
However, there are things you can do to improve your focus and ensure high productivity in open-plan offices. We’ve put together our top eight tips for staying focused in a noisy office space – let’s see what they are!
How to concentrate in a noisy office
Learning how to focus in an office space is essential for maintaining concentration and getting your work done. Whether you work in an office space in your company’s private building, or you use shared office spaces, here are some of the things you can do to help you concentrate.
Work on one task at a time
Noise is a stimulant, and while this might sound like a good thing for work, too much stimulation can make us less productive and affect our ability to focus. A study by Timothy Wilson, as referenced in his book ‘Strangers to Ourselves’, found that while our brain receives 11 million pieces of information each second, it can only process 40 of them. Therefore, combining noise with multitasking is a recipe for lower productivity and less concentration.
If you’re working in a noisy environment, try working on one task at a time to give it your full attention and help distract you from the sound levels.
Check off your to-do list
Keeping a to-do list goes hand-in-hand with working on one task at a time. But you mustn’t just write the list: you need to actively keep it updated and ensure you’re checking off items as you complete them. Studies have shown that writing down your tasks is an effective way of maintaining focus, but it can also help you organise your time and keep distractions at bay.
Once you’ve checked off the last task you completed, you could set yourself a timer to complete the next task and focus on getting it done in that time. Perhaps you could ask your colleagues to give you half an hour of quiet to complete it, or look for patterns of noise and work on tasks that require more focus during quieter times.
If you can’t concentrate in an office space, blocking out noise seems like a relatively obvious way of helping you to stay focused, but it’s important that you have the right sounds coming through your headphones. For example, you could listen to a genre of music that helps you concentrate, or even select a playlist or podcast that has been designed specifically to help with focus.
A study by Mindlab International found that nine out of ten people will perform better when listening to music while working. Therefore, using headphones can be a great way to block out noise, while also enhancing your productivity levels.
If you’re working in an office with colleagues, whether from a coworking space or a private open-spaced office, it’s important to set boundaries if you have difficulty concentrating with high noise levels. It’s then equally important to ensure your colleagues are aware of your boundaries so they can respect them.
Whether you place a “do not disturb” sign on your desk while working on an important project, put headphones in when you need distraction-free time or move to another location in the office, there are plenty of ways to show your colleagues your boundaries. You might even find that they feel more comfortable adopting similar boundaries when they need to get work done too.
Rent private office space where possible
Working from a private office might not always be possible depending on your office type, but many coworking spaces have private rooms available for those who need to work alone and distraction-free. If you work remotely from a shared office space, you could opt to rent an office space once or twice a week and use this time to complete the work that requires the highest levels of concentration.
If you work from an open-plan office with other colleagues, and there are no private spaces available, you could arrange a ‘work from home’ day to help you focus on important tasks. Alternatively, if your office has 24-hour access, you could adjust your schedule to work during the quietest times.
RELATED: Managing Flexible Work Arrangements
Take regular breaks
You might think solidly focusing on something for a long period will help you complete work better and faster, but this isn’t the case. Taking regular breaks can help you to improve your focus by clearing your mind between tasks and moving away from noisy distractions.
Whether you grab a coffee, meditate or nip out for a walk, you must remember to move away from your desk and refresh your mind, especially after concentration-heavy tasks. But keep away from your phone if you can as social media breaks can have the opposite effect, as published in a study by the Journal of Behavioral Addictions. Taking regular breaks can also help to reduce stress, boost your performance and increase energy.
Change up your office space
Another way to help keep your focus in a noisy environment is to move around to different workspaces in the office. Some shared offices have dedicated ‘quiet zones’ where you can work free from noise and distractions. If your office doesn’t have a specific space, you could just look for any area with the least amount of noise – perhaps a free meeting room or quiet corner.
Changing your office space can also help you freshen your mind and provide a new source of ideas if your task requires ideation or thinking. If you usually work from a desk in the middle of the office, try moving closer to a window or outside during the summer months where you can draw fresh inspiration.
Minimise other distractions
While noise might be the biggest distraction in the workplace, other distractions won’t help your concentration levels either. A recent study found that employees waste an average of 56 minutes per day using their phones for non-work activities. It’s therefore a good idea to try and minimise these distractions as much as possible to help keep your focus.
Try switching your phone onto airplane mode to ensure you’re not contacted while working on a project, or turn on the ‘do not disturb’ mode on your work communications platforms to keep unimportant conversations out of sight and mind.
Maintaining a positive and distraction-free work environment is essential for ensuring productivity and focus, but there has to be a balance to ensure every employee feels comfortable in the workspace. Work environments can even have an impact on employee retention, so make sure you get it right!