We spend billions (probably trillions) of dollars on the workplace. From designing the right office to securing just the right address, office space is often the second biggest expense a business has (after salaries). But increasingly, the workplace is a terrible place to get work done.
From the distractions of open office spaces to the constant requests for meetings, actually getting work done isn’t easy. On top of that, the whirlwind of choices brought by technology make it harder to stay focused even when you’re alone. Since writing, Under New Management, I’ve received a lot of emails about how to work against the forces of distraction at work and actually retake productivity. Over time, I’ve settled on a two-step process toward finding focus:
First, leave the office.
Find a coworking space, a public library, a coffee shop, or anywhere that has a table/desk and people who don’t know you. Hopefully, your manager has enough faith in you that if you take a half a day to go somewhere else, they won’t assume you’re slacking off. If not, then see if you can book a conference room (without glass walls) or somewhere else inside the office where it’s hard for people to casually find you.
Second, leave your laptop cable.
Charge your computer ahead of time but leave the charging cable behind. That way, once you power it on, you know you only have so much time to work. In psychology, this is what’s known as a commitment device—a choice you make ahead of time to restrict your future choices. With limited power, you don’t have time to waste surfing the internet or watching random YouTube videos. In fact, those things usually drain more power than whatever work you’re there to do. Even if you find your attention wandering, the little voice in the back of your head will remind you that you’ve only got a few hours before the screen goes black.
Between these two steps, you’ll have blocked out others and blocked in (or at least reined in) your own attention span as well. Work seems to rarely happen at work these days, but there are steps you can take to reshape your environment (and yourself) for the short bursts of focused time you need to stay productive.