If you are at work, there's a high chance this article is distracting you from what you from something you should be doing instead. After all, the internet is responsible for over a third of workplace distractions. But still, it isn't the sole--and may not be the biggest--reason you can't concentrate at work.
A recent Wall Street Journal article cites research findings that show how visual distractions, or movements in your peripheral vision, ruins our concentration, and thus our ability to think analytically and creatively. The popular open-office layout isn't helping the cause. Here are four ways you can modify your workspace to reduce visual distractions and increase innovative thinking.
1. Create temporary barriers for creative moments
In an experiment with Chinese factory workers, researchers found teams to be 10-15 percent more productive when they were out of view from supervisors. When shielded out of view, these teams felt more free to try new ideas. When we feel like there are eyes on us, we feel pressured to conform to norms, which negatively impacts our ability to experiment.
When brainstorming with your team or individually, you might feel like going into open spaces to inspire creativity. However, if these spaces are heavily populated by bosses or other colleagues, you may actually be doing yourself a disservice. Seek out spacious, but secluded spaces when you want to freely and more effectively brainstorm.
2. Turn to dark colors when you need to focus
Although bright, well-lit spaces are inviting and collaborative, they are also visually distracting. Bright colors are tempting to the eye and difficult to ignore. In a recent move to a new office, one marketing technology firm in New York used lighting and material to differentiate between collaborative spaces and ones for focus.
In areas where there are already lots of people or where you often try to focus, consider redecorating with subdued colors and natural materials like wood or concrete. This decor makes it easier to keep your eyes, and more importantly, your brain, directed toward your work rather than your surrounding environment.
3. Create physical separation for individual and collaborative work
According to a Princeton University neuroscientist, movements in our peripheral vision consume cognitive resources, meaning that they pull away from our brain power. People are impacted at different levels, and for some people, concentrating in open, busy offices is impossible. Even If you are more heavily impacted by these unpredictable movements, it's unlikely that you are going to change jobs over it.
One way to decrease unpredictable movements is to reorient your desk so that it faces away from traffic paths or even the rest of your team. By turning your back, you create a visual cue that you don't want to be distracted. My team has designed our pod so that we face away from each other for solo-computer time and come together at a central table for collaborative moments.
4. Build your own cube to manage noise and distractions
According to an expert in adult ADD/ADHD, you can manage distractions by creating both subtle and non-so-subtle signs in and around your work area. Having blinders in your space, for example, will prevent you from distractions around you, and will also make it less appealing for people to interrupt you.
One way to create your own cube might be to line the sides of your desk with plants. This will also help to pad noise. Another way might be to use rolling whiteboards (we have this at my office) to section a communal desk off into a singular pod whenever necessary.
Distractions can be helpful ways to get inspired or to rest your mind. But in some cases, they actually prohibit creativity. In these cases, focus on eliminating them from your workspace.