February 17, 2010

How To Be Productive In An Open Office

I work in an open office environment, which just means that there are many people and few walls. As a result, it's sometimes easy to become distracted or be interrupted by co-workers and often difficult to get as much work done as I'd planned.

I've been trying to come up with some ways to make it easier to get work done at work rather than doing it when I come home at night, and here are some of the ideas I've generated. I can't promise they'll work for anyone else, but they seem to be working well for me so far.

1. Take Time to Make Time

When planning your day or week, set aside a block of time that you will dedicate to getting your work done without any interruptions. Setting this time aside now will help you later... like when you get that meeting planner at 10:00 for the meeting at 10:30. If that falls during your productive time, you can politely decline the request or suggest an alternative time.

2. Let Others Know You're Unavailable

Following Step 3 below will help to keep your co-workers from interrupting your productive time, but in an open office it's difficult to avoid some interruptions from people stopping at your desk for one reason or another. Before you begin working send out an email to your co-workers requesting that they not interrupt you during the time you've set aside for yourself. If you need to, tape a sign to the outside of your cubicle with the same request.

3. Disconnect and Shutdown

If the work you need to do doesn't require a computer, shut it down. No, really, I mean it. Turn the computer off. If you need your computer to do your work, here's what to do:
  • Sign out of all your IM/Twitter/etc. apps and close all browser windows that don't pertain to the task at hand (Looking at you, Mr. MySpace Creeper).
  • Close your email application. Really, it's okay, you won't miss anything more important than your third cousin's self-loathing status updates.
  • Turn off your cell phone. See above if you're worried about missing something important.
  • Put your office phone in Do-Not-Disturb mode.

4a. Relocate If You Can

Sometimes we all need a little peace and quiet, and that can be hard to come by in an open office. If you can take your work elsewhere and there is a quiet area available to you (a meeting room or vacant office, perhaps?), then head over that way to do your work. If you're lucky enough to get a room with a door, close the door.

4b. Build a Cocoon

If you just can't get away, do whatever you can to block out extraneous stimuli that will distract you. I find generally that putting some headphones on and shuffling through my classical or jazz playlist works well. You'll have to find what works best for you.

5. Do Your Work (!)

It's all too easy to distract ourselves sometimes. In order to be productive you need to have the focus and discipline necessary to do the work that's ahead of you and nothing else.

Hopefully these tips will help others to be more productive in an open office like mine, or just be more productive in general. If you have other tips to share about how to be more productive at work, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.