Are you in a cube farm or other open-office environment? If so, you know that no amount of snack machines, sofas, or fancy Herman Miller furniture can make up for the constant noise and interruptions.
For many years I worked on a team of introverts sandwiched between two of my company’s most extroverted teams. Sitting out in the open with lots going on around me made it tough to be productive.
Here are some ways I coped with cubicle hell, and some new methods I’ve discovered since. Hopefully these will help you too.
1. Earplugs are your friend
I invested in some heavy-duty earplugs. They didn’t block noise completely but they definitely took the edge off. Tip: wear earplugs and headphones. The earplugs drown out surrounding chatter but you’ll still be able to hear the music. Try it! And remember, earplugs take a while to get used to, so definitely stick with them for a week or so.
2. Build a social wall with headphones
Besides the obvious benefit of listening to music, headphones say “I’m working don’t bother me”. Wear them even when you’re not listening to music. You’ll find people are less prone to interrupt you for no good reason. I found very visible headphones worked well as a social wall and were best at blocking external sounds.
3. Use calming noises to mask sound
Sometimes listening to music can be too distracting. Fans, desktop water fountains, and listening to flowing water sounds on your headphones are all great ways to take the edge off. Try Rainymood.com, a free website that plays the soothing sound of rain.
4. Cancel noise all together
I’ve never tried noise-cancelling headphones, but if I still worked in a cube, I definitely would. They can be very expensive though, so if you can, test them out before buying. Here are some great noise-cancelling headphone reviews from CNET.
5. Draw the line with neighbors
It’s important to be friendly and social in the office but draw the line with overly chatty neighbors. “I have to work right now”, “Talk to you later”, and “OK Bye” are all appropriate responses while you turn your back and get back to work. They may keep talking for a while, but if you don’t interact, they will eventually get the message.
6. Be strategic about seating
If you can control the location of your desk, be strategic. Don’t sit near benches or sofas where people can gather, outside the doors of meeting rooms or with your back to an aisle. All these locations make you a target for interruptions.
7. Work at non-peak times
Do your really crunchy work at the end of the day, early in the morning, or over lunch when people aren’t around. At non-peak times the office is quieter and you’ll naturally get more done. Once in a while I’d work late on a Thursday night so my Friday wouldn’t be so stressful. Then I’d leave early.
8. Work from home
This goes without saying. Try and strike a deal to work one day a week at home. Mid-week is best. Mondays and Fridays are already quiet because people like to take those days off.
9. Beware of the machines
Don’t sit near the coffee maker or the copy machine. The mechanically-challenged will continually ask for your help. If you’re forced to sit near the kitchen or a copier, my condolences. Besides self-medicating on toner fumes, use body language and headphones that say, “I’m working, don’t bug me.”
10. Work in a meeting room
Book out the time and the space in advance, so it’ll pop up on your calendar. Set up your laptop and put a bunch of papers across from you. You’ll have the meeting room to yourself and it’ll look like someone else is in there, so the odds of getting kicked out are reduced.
11. Talk to your boss
Don’t suffer in silence if your office is really noisy. Speak to your boss about it. Mine definitely understood the toll taken by noise and helped plan seating arrangements accordingly. In my case, things could have been much worse.
Have another tip? Feel free to leave them in the comments.
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