How to Tune out Noisy Coworkers So You Can Focus and Get Stuff Done

Coffee shop noise — the whirring of the espresso machine and voices of friends catching up — creates a magical ambiance where your ability to focus soars, but a noisy office environment can be detrimental to your productivity.

Those chatty Cathys and let’s-be-too-Franks are getting on your last nerve, and office gossip over the copier isn’t your idea of a nice coffee chat with coworkers. Not to mention, the copier and its death pangs are strategically located in sneezing distance from your desk. Ah, the joys of an open floor plan!

Why can’t these people understand that you just want to get your stuff done so you can go home on time and try to get quality shuteye for once? It’s because if Cathy and Frank aren’t getting shuteye, then no one is getting shuteye. If you can’t shut ‘em up, here’s how you can tune ‘em out:

1. White Noise

Drown them out with white noise. If it works on a snoring spouse, it’s got to work in the office, too.

If your office policies allow you to use a white noise machine at your desk, let the wind blow and the rain fall. You can even pretend you’re at the beach. If only, right?

It’s completely reasonable to broach the subject of noise levels with your boss, but come prepared with solutions.

In lieu of a machine, a small fan works. Just place it on your desktop in a position that takes the edge off Cathy’s cackle.

2. Earbuds

Music affects your mood and wellbeing, and an up-tempo beat may help you de-stress, boost your productivity and tune out the noise. Noise-canceling headphones are particularly effective, but the use of these depends on office policy and how alert to other voices you need to be while on the job.

Maybe you prefer to work to jazz or classical, or your love for metal may encourage the bluegrass-loving Frank to share his honest opinions elsewhere.

3. Soundproof

To defeat the noise, you must determine how the noise is traveling: Are you in the room with the noise, or is the noise seeping through the walls? Various sound absorption and soundproofing products help to lessen or eradicate the effects of the noise.

Vibratory noise comes from objects that generate noise, such as equipment on a construction site, a car or a copier with an annoying paper jam. Sound absorption products stop the noise from getting in. For example, acoustic foam enhances the acoustics of a room and will reduce reverberations by absorbing the noise.

Soundproof coating may be added to plastic, metal, wood or fiberglass to lessen the effect of office noise. Hanging ceiling baffles or acoustic partitions provide physical barriers from the noise.

4. Get Centered

While the outside noise isn’t in your head, it’s causing you to complain about it to yourself, which adds mental noise on top of physical noise. Reduce your inner noise by getting centered. Keep calm and carry on!

Colour in an adult colouring book, or do desk yoga poses or deep breathing exercises.

Get centered by finding a mindful practice and starting it as a ritual during a quiet part of the day, such as the morning. Create a smaller version of this mindful practice as a way for you to check in with yourself when the noise becomes too much.

Use various methods, and get creative with mixing them up. Colour in an adult colouring book, or do desk yoga poses or deep breathing exercises. Find excuses to take a walk and get outside for five minutes. It helps.

5. Be Honest With Your Coworkers

Be direct and open with your coworkers about the noise levels, instead of stewing and letting the noise affect your productivity and the operation of the company. Do not snap or be rude. Take the time to broach the subject in a casual, tactful and serious way. Your coworkers will appreciate the polite honesty, without enabling bad office etiquette.

Maybe some of that noise is part of the job. Who knows? Perhaps you will find a way to collaborate to reduce the noise and improve everyone’s focus.

6. Request a Work Station Relocation

It’s completely reasonable to broach the subject of noise levels with your boss, but come prepared with solutions. Your boss is more likely to say yes, especially when you time it right and offer a reasonable plan of action.

Volunteer to relocate your work station, if it doesn’t create a major inconvenience for your boss or coworkers. Explain that the excessive noise levels are affecting your ability to focus and you want to remain dedicated to your tasks with your full attention.

Alternatively, your boss may consider new policies on noise. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Another idea is to propose the option of working from home part of the time.

7. Leave a Bit Later or Come in Earlier

Is it possible to come in earlier or later to work? Usually these are quieter parts of the work day. Your work hours may be adjustable, and perhaps it’s time to arrange a new schedule with your boss anyway.

Whether or not this is an option, focus on getting your most difficult tasks done during quieter parts of the day, and leave the light work, such as checking email, during the noisier times.

Find excuses to take a walk and get outside for five minutes. It helps.

Try these suggestions to eliminate stress and take action to reduce noise levels. A work atmosphere without excessive noise creates a healthier and more productive environment for all.

Office gossips like Cathy and Frank will always find an alternative water cooler or copier to chat over. With less noise, you’ll finally be able to focus, get stuff done and go home for quality shuteye.

Sarah Landrum

Sarah Landrum recently graduated from Penn State with degrees in Marketing and PR. Now, she's a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on navigating the work world and achieving happiness and success in your career. You can find her tweeting on her coffee breaks @SarahLandrum