Our sense of control is plummeting and overwhelm is on the rise. From the noise and distractions of the open office to the incoming channels of information we manage on our mobile phones and desktops, quite frankly, it can be difficult to focus on what really matters.
How distracting are our workplaces? I recently surveyed a group of friends who are all parents of young children. I wondered, “What do you find more distracting—your work environment or home?” Shockingly, more than half agreed that their work environment was more chaotic than their home. While both environments are noisy and can be chaotic, at home these adults had something they didn’t feel like they had at work: the ability to control the chaos around them. But this is where I think too many of us are mistaken.
In reality, we can control our work environments and can also help others find heightened balance amid workplace chaos. The first step is to feel empowered to take control.
Work at an Optimal Time of Day
Know your biological primetime or when you are at your best. If you work best in the morning, try getting into work before anyone else arrives. If you’re a nighthawk, arrive late and stay late. Once you’ve found your primetime, optimize your environment during this time (e.g., retreat to a conference room on a floor where no one will find you during your prime times for work).
If you’re a leader or manager, you can also intervene by empowering employees t0 choose when they work. After all, fewer people present in the office at any given time can greatly reduce workplace chaos, especially if you’re in an open office (it may even enable you to reduce the overall size of your office).
Fences Still Make Great Neighbors
Have you ever heard the expression, “weed to seed”? The premise is simple: We need to pull out the weeds from our emotional and mental gardens in order to deliver the best results. To begin, decide what you do and don’t want in your life and courageously begin to build fences to keep out anything that is distracting or pulling you down. Next, start unsubscribing and keep unsubscribing from any news channel, newsletters, or notifications you don’t really need. Finally, start saying no to toxic people. Simply put, graciously decline spending time with people who don’t excite, inspire, or support you in some way.
If you’re a leader or manager, look around and ask yourself if everything and everyone present is contributing in a positive and productive manner. Is anything or anyone taking over the garden, so to speak? Is this dynamic something you want to cultivate? Like it or not, sometimes weeding out toxic personalities is the best way to maintain balance in the workplace.
Put Up Real and Virtual Filters
Filters are clarifying. They help keep out what you don’t want to let in. If you like working in solitude, a simple filter is to position yourself at work around people who share your desire for a quiet work environment. On the virtual side, this may mean finding effective ways to mute the digital noise (e.g., only checking your social media accounts on your phone and not the computer you use at work). As a leader or manager, there are also steps you can take to promote filters. One obvious step is to consider supporting your employees’ desire to sometimes be entirely off-line. Begin by taking a second look at your company policies and practices on responding to emails outside work hours.
Pay Attention to Your Physical and Mental Health
The best way to remain balanced is to take regular breaks, rehydrate, and avoid overwork and sleep deprivation. If you’re in charge, this also applies to you! After all, employees often take the lead from leaders and managers when it comes to physical and mental health. If they see someone higher up prioritizing these things, they are more likely to give themselves permission to prioritize these things as well.
If you dread going to work because it is too noisy or chaotic and you’re craving balance, don’t assume that earplugs and patience are the only remedy. Employees, managers and leaders can all play a role in restoring the balance so many energetic, always-on open workspaces appear to have lost.