In the late 18th century, the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham had a dystopian vision: he thought of a panopticon, a circular prison in which the inmates could always be in view of guards, robbing them of privacy, and with that, human decency. A few centuries later, his surveillance state found fruition: we all started working in open offices.
So we tapped into the brain trust of Fast Company readers to find out how you find focus in our new world of distraction.
“Nobody can understand two people talking at the same time,” says Julian Treasure, chairman of the Sound Agency.
So since you can’t beat the noise, you might as well embrace it.
Fast Company reader Krystian Szastok reports that at his office at Jellyfish in the UK there’s a constantly running office playlist. Having a shared office soundtrack creates enough noise that one-to-one conversations can have an air of privacy even within an open space.
The most-suggested open office-adaptation was the right set of headphones and accompanying music. Depending on his mood, Szastok opts for whale songs, which help when there’s no immediate deadline, or death metal, which powers him up in times of crisis.
Headphones aren’t even necessarily about the music: multiple readers told us they sent a “do not disturb” signal to everybody else on the floor. Another option if you’re in a casual environment: wear a sweatshirt and pull the hood up, it’s not a closed office door, but people should get the message all the same.
If you can’t deal with your colleagues, head elsewhere.
“The best part–and I’m sure this was intentional on my company’s behalf–of our new office space is the common area,” says reader Kley Sippel. “It lets me shift into a new space for a bit, which helps me hunker down and focus through a task.”
To get more done, try matching the space to the type of task.
Don’t worry so much about the distractions around you; take a moment to navigate the distractions buzzing around inside your head, says reader Pino Bethencourt, “Focus by staying grounded: breathe deep, connect to body sensations that signify stress.” Taking breaks in nature helps too she says.