Four Letter Nerd

Cubicle Survival: the Neverending Battle for Productivity

If you are anything like me you spend your days toiling away in the lifeless, beige walls of your cubicle. Unfortunately, cubicles can have so many distractions that your productivity gets crushed harder than the bathroom tiles in the Fantastic Four bathroom.

"What are you trying to say?"

“What are you trying to say?”

The reason for the mass production destruction is the archenemy of introverts and high-achievers alike – other people.

Luckily there are some things you can do to regain your productive strength. Like Superman rising above the clouds and soaking in the rays of the sun, you can rise above distraction and get some work done (on a lot less epic scale).

Now, some of you don’t work in cubicle world so not everything in this article will apply, but there are still general productivity tips in the expanse below to help you be awesome.

One of the biggest complaints from employees in these open working environments is the staggering amount of noise. Ringing phones, email notifications, text notifications, loud chewers, and constant bullshitters are all commonplace and it can be excruciating trying to get anything done in this environment (trust me, it’s brutal).

If you are like me you probably aren’t just going to tell everyone to shut up. First of all even if the constant bullshitters and loud chewers that still leaves everything else, and everything else still sucks quite a bit. Second of all the constant bullshitters are probably vindictive and will continue to be annoying, but now it will be on purpose instead of just because of their amazing personality.

The most obvious counter-tactic to the cacophony of office noise is a good set of headphones, preferably noise-reduction headphones (you  can check out Robbie’s favorite headphones here). “But how would replacing one collection of noises for a slightly more harmonious collection help you (assuming you aren’t listening to Dubstep)?” Well, one study suggests that one reason we get so fed up with the random noises surrounding our cubicle is because they are entirely out of our control, and therefore more stressful than the noise that we choose to listen too.  I also read that it is better for your focus if you listen to music you aren’t familiar with.  I have been trying this out using I Heart Radio for the last few weeks, and I would recommend it.  It actually does help quite a bit as long as you don’t spend time skipping songs (that’s a focus killer too).

The level of focus listening to music allows depends on what kind of music you are listening to and when you choose to listen. It is thought that while you are to learn new information you should probably turn your Zune off (I am kidding of course, no one uses a Zune anymore). However, when you are doing a familiar task go ahead and drown out all that peripheral noise by cranking up the jams. There was a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that a group of surgeons worked more accurately and were more relaxed when listening to music they liked.

"No one likes the Zune anymore... except ME!?"

“No one likes the Zune anymore… except ME!?”

But seriously, don’t sing or hum along with your iPod. Not only does it inherently decrease your focus by increasing your mental workload, but it will also make everyone around you hate you (I am speaking from experience, I will hate you).

Another way to increase your focus at work is to implement a standing desk. Standing desks have been around for a while. Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, and Winston Churchill were all proponents of standing while working. Standing desks not only counteract the negative impact sitting all day has on your health, they also have the ability to increase your focus on the task at hand. Another added bonus is that you can be the equivalent of an office hipster by being the first person in your office to give it a go (unless you work at a hip office already, in which case what are you waiting for).

Julia Gifford of the Draugiem Group studied the impact standing while working had on their productivity. Her group came to the conclusion that standing can lead to up to 10% more productivity. One of the biggest takeaways from standing while working is increased focus. While standing you gain a heightened sense of urgency, which causes you to be focused on completing the task at hand. However, for tasks requiring creative thinking they found it was better to sit down and allow your mind to wonder without paying attention to your physical state.

I used a jerry-rigged standing desk at work for a while. In order to get a standing desk put into my cubicle I would have to have a doctors note and a specific reason for needing one, so I bought some plastic shelving from Wal-Mart, cut it down to size and placed my monitors on the shelf above my desk. When I had to look over paperwork I would sit down, and when I would work on the computer I would be required to stand. An added bonus was that I would not spend as much time surfing the interwebs because everyone around me could see my screens so it kind of forces your hand in becoming more focused in that area too.

These two physical tricks will help you block out the jibber-jabber and focus in on the task at hand. Sometime later we will look at certain apps that will also help with productivity, but these two things in particular have really helped me step up my work level at work and get shit done at work.

If you have any tips and tricks that help your you stay focused at work leave them in the comments below!

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Cam Clark

Cam is a husband, father, and a fan of many things. In college, he wrote his senior thesis on Mythological, Philosophical, and Theological Themes in Star Wars, and now spends his days causally specializing in Star Wars, Tolkien, and cubical work. No relation to Bill Clark.

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