7 ways to concentrate even when your coworkers are annoying AF
No matter how much you may love your job, there’s probably something — or more likely, someone — that really gets under you skin at the office. Whether it’s the random whistling guys who can’t seem to browse the Internet without getting tuneful or the ladies who loudly gossip mere feet from your desk, it’s a fact well proven that you won’t love every coworker you come across.
So how can you block out the daily distractions and get your job done? Try these tips to improve your concentration and tune out the crazy so you can keep your eye on the prize, whether it’s a raise, a promotion or simply the satisfaction of a job well done.
Eat a protein-packed breakfast.
While there’s not always much you can do about annoying coworkers, you can do some things to boost your own energy level before work. Start the day with a protein-laden breakfast like a veggie omelet to help you stay alert throughout the morning. Avoiding hunger will keep you from getting distracted, and it will also help you keep crankiness at bay so you can find the emotional reserves to be polite to the people around you — even when they’re displaying championship-level disruption.
Headphones are a brilliant solution in two ways. First, they’re a universal sign that you are not interested in a conversation, and their mere presence — music-filled or not — will signal to all but the most clueless of coworkers that you are busy with a capital B.
Second, headphones will help you block out ambient noise. If music is too distracting, try playing white noise or nature sounds instead. Big, noise-canceling headphones will help you stay focused and show your officemates you mean business.
Take a break.
When you find yourself ready to snap a pencil in half or fantasising about flushing your cubicle-mate’s pen down the toilet so he can no longer tap it against his desk, it’s time for a break. Ideally, you should take a walk around the block for some fresh air and a recharge, which will also get your blood moving and provide some healthy exercise. If that’s not possible, find an excuse for a bathroom break, coffee refill or walkabout the building in search of some toner or your favourite vending machine snack.
Set a timer.
If you find yourself getting distracted after only a few minutes of work, it’s time to train your brain to settle in for longer productive periods. Turn off the Internet and email and get to work for 30 minutes, challenging yourself to keep going without interruption until your timer goes off. As you get better at staying focused, increase your work blocks by 10 or 15 minutes until you can work deeply for a couple hours at a time. The better you get at this, the more work you’ll accomplish during your sessions, and you may forget all about your favourite Internet distractions in a few months.
Clear your desk.
If your distractions are less electronic and more physical, take a morning to create a clean work surface and eliminate extraneous stimuli. Start by clearing your desk of photos and kitschy knickknacks, keeping out only the things you use on a daily basis.
Next, organise your drawers, so you don’t waste valuable working time searching for a stapler or file folder. The hour or two you invest in organising your desk and office will pay huge dividends as your streamline your work habits and eliminate wasted minutes digging through clutter.
If you’re struggling to concentrate, try turning your latest task into a game and rewarding yourself for its completion. For example, challenge yourself to finish that spreadsheet in the next 30 minutes. If you do, you’ll go get a candy bar or spend 10 minutes on Facebook. If this trick works for you, try gamifying more aspects of your work and life to increase your productivity. There are apps and social programs to help you turn tasks into a game with trackable goals you can even make public on social media.
Ask for help.
Though the idea of confronting your coworkers to call them out on their irritating behaviour can feel terrifying, you might consider approaching them with humility once you’ve tried everything else. Try phrasing your problem as a request, saying something like, “I’m nervous about this presentation and am having trouble concentrating. Could you help me by not cracking your knuckles?”
If you have a good relationship with your coworkers, this polite request might solve your problem, but you have to be confident they’ll take it with good humor. When in doubt? Tough it out (and turn up your headphones).