Have you ever found that you are more productive trying to work from home than you are working at the office? If so, there could be a number of reasons for your constant state of distraction: chatty co-workers, an overbearing boss who calls you into meetings six times a day, the morale-draining atmosphere created by fluorescent lights, etc. However, you might also be dealing with distractions caused by these six items, found in just about every traditional office environment known to man.
- Cubicles: Working in a cubicle is something akin to working in a tiny, tan-colored prison cell. According to Forbes, the man who invented cubicles has even gone so far as to call his invention “monolithic insanity,” and that’s just about all that needs to be said on the subject. With a workspace as boring, blank, and uninspiring as a cubicle, it’s not surprising that so many office workers tend to get distracted by other things.
- The water cooler: Water coolers are the quintessential distractor in American offices. “Water cooler talk” is an actual term that people use, referring to the conversations that take place around the eponymous oasis of office hydration. These conversations very rarely have anything to do with work, and can range from recaps of last night’s TV shows to office gossip. Essentially, the rule is this: If you want to interact and bond with co-workers, go to the water cooler. Just be wary of spending too much time there, lest your boss start to think they’re paying you more to argue about The Voice than to do real, actual work.
- The coffee maker: For some people, the hub of office distraction isn’t the water cooler, but the coffee maker. (Usually, people who don’t actually drink water fall into this category, because they are too busy loading up on caffeine all day.) Coffee makers don’t have the same reputation for trivial conversation as water coolers, but they also aren’t as easy to use as water coolers. With a water cooler, you just have to go up, grab a cup, press a button, and voila: water. If you get to the coffee maker and find an empty pot, you’re going to have to be the person who deals with the filters, coffee grounds, and brew settings. Next, you’ll have to wait for the coffee to brew, and then you will need to get to work getting the sugar-to-cream-to-coffee ratio just right. This process can easily turn into a 20-minute commitment. Say goodbye to your productivity.
- Computers: Sure, most of us spend most (if not all) of our workday working on the computer. But while your laptop or desktop can be your most important tool for getting your job done, it’s also a double-edged sword that can easily be your biggest distraction. Your hourly “Facebook break” might not feel long, but those five or six minutes can add up over the course of a day or a week. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on what kind of employee you are), many employers have wised up to how much time their workers waste online, installing web filters that block social networking sites, game sites, music streaming sites, and more. There are often ways to get around these filters, but you might want to think about whether it’s worth risking your boss’s wrath to play Farmville at work.
- Windows: It’s the classic ADD distractor: You’re working, maybe doing some paperwork or typing an email, when suddenly something outside catches your eye. Maybe there are two pigeons fighting over a piece of bread, or there is a guy down on the street who is clearly lost and has been wandering around aimlessly for the past 10 minutes. Windows can be huge distractions because they can present a wide range of entertaining or eye-catching impulses at any given time throughout the day. In other words, if you don’t consider yourself someone who can get to work with a laser-like focus, you might want to ask your boss for a workspace away from the window.
- Blank Walls: Some employers probably assume that paintings, posters, graphics, or other wall art are distracting. Usually, though, a serene painting or a poster with a few inspirational quotes are far preferable to blank walls. If you want your employees to start reflecting about the unknowable depths of their own boredom, blank walls are a good way to inspire the wandering mind.
Obviously, some of these distractions are difficult to avoid. There’s only so much you can do about walls or windows—they’re a part of the building, after all! However, by taking small steps, like decorating your cubicle, logging out of Facebook at work, and limiting yourself to just a couple of cups of coffee in the morning (your nervous system will thank you later) you might just be able to stay focused at work.