It's popular to say that people do their best work when they're able to collaborate with others--bouncing ideas off them, having impromptu hallway conversations and the like. But study after study have found that working in an office can be incredibly distracting.
Sick of listening to crosstalk between colleagues about their kids or people stopping by your desk to chat? Here are a few tips to carve out alone time at work and get more done.
Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. Not only does donning headphones communicate to others that you're head-down in work, they can remove annoying sounds from your radar, such as your neighbor chewing his lunch. The Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones are a solid choice and consistently rated highly at Amazon, where they run $299.
Regularly ban talking for a period of time. Inc. columnist and 37signals co-founder Jason Fried suggests doing something like "No Talk Thursday" which you could plan regularly for the first Thursday of the month and cut it in half so that no one is allowed to talk with anyone else all afternoon. "Giving someone four hours of uninterrupted time is the best thing you can give anybody at work," he says.
Don't lure people to your space. Unless you like chatting people up, never offer a candy jar or other treats and make sure there's nowhere for someone who stops by to sit.
Escape your open office. By jamming a bunch of people into a room filled with desks they're more likely to collaborate, right? They might do more talking, but a recent study found that office workers who work in open offices are less happy with their arrangements than those with private offices--it's just too loud and there's not enough privacy. If you're really under the gun and need to crank out a bunch of work, take your laptop somewhere else--an empty conference room, the cafeteria, a coffee shop down the road or even a public library. Just be transparent with anyone who might need you about what you're doing and how they can reach you if a pressing need arises.
Ban interns from asking questions until 5 p.m. It sounds odd, but Inc.com columnist and LearnVest founder and CEO Alexa von Tobel says that scheduling a time for in-depth interaction means her team can stay focused during the day. An end-of-day meeting probably encourages people to keep them short, as well.
Work from home. Managers often have concerns when it comes to letting employees work from home, such as the fear they'll do non-work things when they should be on the clock or that if you let one person telecommute, everyone will want to. But remote working pushes actual work to the forefront when it comes to evaluating an employee, whereas office workers are often judged by petty things completely unrelated to the quality and quantity of the work they do, such as what time someone gets to and leaves work or the number of breaks they take.
Plus, there are so many tools that make staying in touch with the office super simple. The software 15Five gives employees the opportunity to spend 15 minutes a week writing about their successes, challenges, ideas, and morale in a report that only takes a manager five minutes to read. Intellinote is a new Web and iOS app that recently launched in public beta and offers note-taking along with social collaboration, project management, and email integration. And Cotap is a new group texting iPhone app (Android coming soon) for business that scans your phone's address book for contacts who have the same work email domain as you (and use the app), automatically creating your own directory.
Curb yourself with an app. Not all distractions are caused by other people. If your tendency is to check your email every three minutes or hang out on Twitter or Facebook StayFocusd is a browser extension for Google Chrome that lets you block certain websites for various times that you designate. Idderall is a similar tool for Firefox. Safari and Chrome users should check out WasteNoTime, a browser extension that not only includes an Instant Lockdown feature that lets you limit your Internet access, it has the sobering ability to track the amount of time you spend each day on the top 10 sites you visit.
Want more on this topic? Check out Add More Hours to Your Day (No, Really).