How to Be Productive in an Unproductive Environment

Research suggests that certain office structures can promote interruption, but there are ways to optimize your workspace without sacrificing your focus.

Ahmet Misirligul/ Shutterstock
Ahmet Misirligul/ Shutterstock

It’s challenging to focus on your work in a disruptive environment, and when you’re trying your best to stay on top of your to-do list, each distraction around you can feel incredibly frustrating. Whether you work in an office that is conducive to chatter, or in a lively city that makes it difficult to find a quiet spot in your home, finding the time and space for uninterrupted work can feel impossible — and that can be stressful.

Instead of harping on the irritations around you, research shows that it’s entirely possible for you to make small changes that can help improve your focus (and no, you don’t have to work overtime to find some silence at the office).

Here are three ways to stay productive when the space around you doesn’t always allow for it:

Incorporate a walk into your day

It may seem counterintuitive to leave work for a walk around the block when your plate is full, but studies show that taking an intentional stroll outside can help break up your day, and make you more productive when you return to your desk. Plus, if you especially find that you feel your brain works best outdoors, invite your co-workers to take your meetings to the street from time to time. Steve Jobs was known to take walking meetings to foster creativity, and some find they can even help strengthen relationships with colleagues. However you choose to incorporate your walk, you’ll find that moving and getting fresh air can help improve your attention span, and even relieve some of that stress that you were feeling at your desk.

Clear away devices

While you likely do most of your work in front of a screen, clearing away additional devices can help you stay focused on the task you’re working on. If you are heads down on a particular task that requires your undivided attention, getting texts throughout the day can interrupt your individual workflow, and the same goes for meetings that require concentrated teamwork and collaboration. Harvard research shows that open plan offices often result in more digital communication, which in turn can impede your focus — but if you make the effort to clear away the tech products that are getting in the way of your productivity, you can better concentrate on what needs to get done.

Categorize your work

It’s easy to get distracted when we feel overwhelmed by our surroundings, and this can often happen if you work in an unorganized space. When your physical environment lacks clear structure, every to-do can feel more stressful, and your brain can get overwhelmed by what’s on your plate. To avoid getting sidetracked by your disorganized surroundings, try categorizing your tasks into individual time segments — or into groups based on urgency. If a project is particularly daunting, breaking it up into smaller pieces can prompt your brain to focus on the organization of the work instead of disruptive setting.

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