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5 Ways to Stay Focused in an Open Office

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The future of work has been debated for decades now. Are robots taking over? Will we all work remotely on islands with fast Wi-Fi and dial into team meetings? Unfortunately, the future isn't here yet, and the reality for about 70 percent of office employees is a daily commute to a workplace with an open floor plan. While once heralded as the fix-all for creative teams and collaboration, those myths have been repeatedly busted. If you are part of the majority of workers who feel like you're being crushed under the constant noise and lack of privacy, here's how to cope and regain control.

Work in Quiet Spaces When Possible

If your schedule is flexible throughout the day, pick an hour or so and move you and your laptop to a quiet zone. That might be a library-like space in the office or a mellow cafe down the street with Wi-Fi and plush chairs. Even if the spaces aren't as silent as you'd like, the ability to physically relocate to a new space helps boost creativity and productivity. It will also help ensure that you keep moving throughout the day and don't fall into the trap of sitting for hours at a time.

Follow Basic Productivity Best Practices

Everyone, regardless of the office environment, benefits from a boost through long days and even longer to-do lists. Those in an open environment need to be even more mindful of distraction so they can stay focused and get work done. Find productivity hacks that work for you and stick to them. The experts recommend everything from starting your day by creating a prioritized to-do list to taking regular breaks every 60 to 90 minutes. Leaving your desk for lunch and taking short walks throughout the day are also some of the best ways to do more while sitting less.

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Designate Do Not Disturb Markers

While the point of an open space is to foster collaboration, you've still got to get work done. For those, especially creative teams or programmers, who need extended periods of intense concentration, the experts recommend a busy signal. Some organizations have written this quirk into the employee handbook, while others have created systems on the fly. Here's how it works. Create a signal, like a red paper flag or another marker, and attach it to your desk at times when you need to remain free of distraction. Just be sure that the rest of the team is aware of the signals.

Invest in Good Headphones

Even if you're just working on simple tasks and don't need to be in total concentration mode, it's hard to focus when you're half-listening to your neighbor’s chat about everything from the latest episode of The Bachelor to a client horror story. The easiest way to overcome this hurdle is with a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Don't forget to ask HR or the office manager if you can expense them as an office supply – it doesn't always work, but it could be worth the effort of sending an email.

Be Mindful of Your Coworkers

And foster an environment where others will be mindful, too. Create a place that's more conducive to work and concentration. Many open office plans group people together in pods. Even if there aren't any formal organizational best practices down on paper, take a little time to develop a pod code of conduct. Perhaps you can all agree on an hour of near-silence every day, or a plan to not slurp noodles at your desk – because eating sounds generally annoy everyone! Whatever the plan, approach your pod like a community and be deliberate in fostering a productive atmosphere.

About the Author

Kristin Amico is a career and business writer who spent more than a decade managing creative teams at digital agencies. She has written for The Muse, The Independent and USA Today.

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