5 Ways To Stay Focussed In Open Office Environments
By: Dave Asprey
June 22, 2015
If you work in an open office workspace, then you probably know how difficult it is to stay focused. Study after study shows that employees are more stressed and less happy when they are constantly bombarded with interruptions.
Even if you genuinely like your coworkers and colleagues, you probably don’t want to listen to them shouting on their phone calls, chewing gum loudly, and doing whatever else it is they do when you’re trying to concentrate. Plus, you might need to scratch somewhere inappropriate…
The Challenges of Open Office Workspaces
Biohacking is the art of changing your environment, both external and internal, to have great control of your biology.
Distracting external environments jack up your internal systems because our bodies don’t want to be involved in constant noisy commotion. You will experience stress – the unhelpful kind– when you are in this kind of environment. The good thing is, there are a few simple things you can do to make it a lot more livable. These will reduce your stress and increase your productivity.
It’s not like this is a new problem.
Check out this invention from 1925. It’s called the Isolator Helmet, and it was invented by someone famous.  Hugo Gernsback was the publisher of a magazine called Amazing Stories that was the beginning of the science fiction genre. The prestigious Hugo award for science fiction writing is named after him. Hugo created the isolator helmet to block out all the noise from your surroundings and to narrow your field of view to only what was right in front of you. It even had an oxygen tank to make sure you were truly sound isolated.
Sound extreme? Probably. But it is an early example of changing the space around you to increase your performance – in this case, your writing performance. No one knows whether he used it frequently for writing. When I was writing The Bulletproof Diet, I did use supplemental oxygen, I changed the lighting, and I worked in a cabin away from distractions. I used music and other brain influencing sounds to improve my writing productivity. It worked!
Block The Noise
If you are in an open office, something like this will make you look like a freak. However, a pair of super high quality noise canceling headphones can do wonders for the amount of energy you have left at the end of the day. I used to use over-ear headphones, but those are so 1990. There is no comparison to the $300 in-ear noise canceling Bose headphones. I think that having tried several other high-end brands of in-ear and over-ear headphones over the past several years. (I have no business relationship with Bose…)
When I fly, I can’t even hear the stewardess ask if I want something to drink. It is a form of blissful silence that I used to think was unachievable.
Pick The Right Music
The other thing you can do to reduce distractions in an office is to find the right kind of music to play that does not distract you; when you play that on top of the noise canceling, you are in a virtual cone of silence. Given how easy it is with Spotify or Pandora to have a custom curated soundtrack, there’s no excuse for not having something playing in the background to cut distractions.
Train Your Field of Vision
Next up is vision. This crazy isolator helmet limited your field of view to just what you’re working on. You probably don’t need to go that far, but you might be surprised at what a baseball cap can do to remove peripheral vision distractions. Likewise, there are a variety of glasses designed to reduce visual stress. The most popular brand is Gunnar; they cut the glare from your screen and had a slight tint so that visual distractions take less energy from your brain and you have more energy at the end of the day.
Get Irlen Glasses
You can go one step further and get a pair of Irlen lenses, which are custom to the visual spectrum that works best for your eyes. [2,3] That’s what I do. Read this guest post by Helen Irlen or check out the Bulletproof Radio podcast with Helen to learn more about this kind of technology.
The people I know who have had custom lenses created are amazed at the extra energy they have at the end of the day.
Interior Decorate Your Office – Strategically
Other people I know have strategically decorated their open office environment so that they don’t have to stare at their neighbors. Picture frames, funky office artwork, and a houseplant or two can do wonders to reduce distraction.
The Best Solution? Work From Home!
Better yet, to escape the oppression of an open office environment, do your best to find a way to work from home where you can have a lot more control of your environment, which gives you more control of your biology. You don’t need to work from home every day to get this benefit; just doing it some of the time can help your body be less stressed and give you more control of the quality of food you eat.
You might be thinking that is easier said than done. For some, it’s simply not possible.
If you just can’t negotiate a remote working arrangement, that’s okay. Then the trick is to make sure that you take frequent breaks to move around, and you may be able to get a better location by insisting on a standing desk to help your posture. Company HR departments will bend over backward to help you prevent repetitive stress injuries and/or dynamic problems.
If a standing desk helps you get out of a high traffic area, that’s an added bonus to the benefits you get from not sitting all day anyway. If you do work in an office, check out more ways to hack your workspace ergonomics here.
- Bose in-ear noise cancelling headphones
- Music that helps you stay focused
- Think about a hat (my favorite is from Melin)
- Consider Gunnar glasses or –the ultimate – Irlen lenses
- Work from home some of the time
- Frequent breaks
- Standing desks get you moved out of high traffic areas