Some time ago I wrote a post about work efficiency. Aniela, one of the readers, pointed out then how hard it is to focus while working in an open space office as it is noisy and full of distractions. People talking loudly to each other, phone conversations, constant buzz of office equipment can be a real productivity killer not only for people working in cubicles. Nowadays, growing trend to promote open-door office manner of work produces not as much friendlier working environment as increasing number of frustrated workers who cannot focus properly in such conditions.
Long exposure to noise, even if it’s not very loud, can have many unpleasant consequences like elevated blood pressure, headaches, fatigue, increased stress level or even vertigo. Its primary cause is adrenaline which when elevated triggers narrowing of blood vessels that affects all cardiovascular system. With time the effects of constant noise can lower our threshold for noise producing sleep disturbance, which results in sleeping problems, as every noise is interpreted by our body as too loud. I am sure that everybody at least once in their life experienced such situation that suddenly in the middle of the night our fridge seemed to work as loud as a lawn mower not allowing us to relax and fall asleep.
Although people have a natural biologically conditioned tendency – known as the cocktail party effect – to tune in and out unwanted noise, aggravated noise level and long exposure to it can effectively disable this natural barrier.
There are, however, possible measures to be taken in order to reduce unpleasant effects of work noise.
The Office layout
If possible, you can rearrange the office space, and move office equipment further from the working area. The distance will make your co-workers and you think twice before printing out something unnecessary. It will also decrease the level of noise in your immediate vicinity.
Another solution is a noise absorber that you can suggest your boss to install on the ceiling or on the walls. Obviously it depends on the budget of the company, but pros are in this case prevailing: lower level of stress, decreased level of doctor’s leaves, increased overall productivity, and better working conditions resulting in increased loyalty to the company.
You yourself can also take some preventive measures to cut yourself off the work noise.
The most common way to do it is to invest in noise cancelling headphones or even real ear silencers if you are not fond of music while working. They look like headphones but muffle sound more effectively taking you to the refreshing world of silence.
Many people find a sound barrier extremely useful. They play music which distracts brain from other more distant sounds, making them more focused on their work. Personally, when I am working, music with lyrics distracts me a lot, especially when the song is sang in a different language that I am working in. But smooth jazz, piano or classical music relaxes me a lot and allows me to write even in a crowded park or in a busy coffee shop. Research shows that classical music not only increases your brain performance but also reduces anxiety and decreases blood pressure level.
In case you are not fond of classical music, but you would still like to use a noise bubble to your advantage, you can always turn to white noise generating applications available for free on the Internet, like Simply Noise that generates different sounds assigned to different colours. Those sounds resemble real nature sounds like wind or ocean and separate you from the office buzz quite effectively not distracting you at the same time.
However, if nothing proves useful for you, you can always try to change your schedule. Why not trying to come a bit earlier before everybody else, and do tasks that require from you the highest level of concentration, leaving less strenuous ones for later. This way you are killing two birds with one stone, since you approach your tasks with your morning well-rested brain that is well-prepared for handling problems.
My last advice that I find worth trying out is prioritizing your work in order to naturally separate yourself from the office noise. I am sure that you have noticed that when you are really into something you tend to zone out totally from the world of living. Your concentration level is higher when you work on something that you find passionate. Taking advantage of this natural biological conditioning, try to work on your schedule organizing tasks that you find fascinating and boring in turns in order to keep your concentration level elevated.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution, and we have to get used to the fact that we live in the society and we will never get rid of noise produced by others, unless we move into a forest to become a hermit. Nevertheless, we have to keep in mind that work noise is a natural product of a busy working environment, and actually many people find it energizing and motivating. Maybe it’s time to try to change the perspective … Is it possible to get used to work noise and find it useful for our level of creativity?