Like any office setting, coworking spaces with an open floor plan come with benefits and drawbacks. A study exploring the privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices found that the “benefits of enhanced ‘ease of interaction’ were smaller than the penalties of increased noise level and decreased privacy resulting from open-plan office configuration.” And yet for many individuals and startups, open-plan coworking spaces are the only or best option. They need an office, but they don’t have the budget for a private office. When deadlines are looming, how do you deal with the noise and distractions of working in close quarters with your fellow coworkers? To improve your productivity while coworking, check out our five favorite techniques. Good news: you can start using all of them immediately.
1. Ditch the multitasking
There’s no arguing the fact that multitasking can make you feel like a superhuman productivity machine. Unfortunately, research proves what we’ve worried might be true: multitasking is a sham.
This is a difficult pill to swallow for those of us who love jumping from project to project, a common pattern for freelancers or solopreneurs juggling multiple projects. So why do we do feel great while multitasking? Because our brain convinces us that it’s a good idea. Bouncing between many activities or tasks feels fulfilling, but we’re not actually getting more work done. It makes our work feel more emotionally satisfying, meaning multitasking becomes literally addictive. The positive feedback loop we create in our brain when we multitask sends us a signal we should keep doing it.
Even the name “multitasking” is a lie. The more appropriate name for what we’re doing is “task switching,” as we literally cannot complete two tasks simultaneously. When we switch among multiple tasks, we’re losing precious seconds from our day. And those stolen seconds really add up. Trying to multitask can mean we lose out on up to 40% of our productivity in a given day.
2. Headphones are the key
In most coworking spaces, headphones are a universal symbol for “do not disturb.” Even if you’re not listening to something, chucking on the headphones can send a signal to those around you that you’re deep in the zone. If you’re using earbuds, you can take the symbolism one step further by popping in a single earbud to signal that you’re getting work done, but you’re still open to minor interruptions.
If you are easily distracted by nearby conversations, put those headphones to good use and give Noisli a try. It’s a (free!) program with a host of white and pink noises (such as nature sounds, fans, rain, and unintelligible coffee shop chatter among others) that you can custom mix into your own personal productivity “playlist.” Save favorite mixes for later use and download the chrome extension to keep this productivity hack one click away at all times.
3. Explore “minimum viable days”
Entrepreneurs, freelancers, and other coworking space members are highly motivated individuals. Yet as much as you’d like to be firing on all cylinders every day, that’s just not a feasible dream. Trying to function in this capacity every single day will lead to burnout. To keep on track to hit your goals, meet yourself where you’re at and shorten your to-do’s from time to time. Wouldn’t your workweek be better if every day felt like a success?
To achieve this reset, incorporate a minimum viable day into your schedule midweek. Borrowing from the concept of a minimum viable product, these days allow you to keep your momentum going without causing a burn out. No one is 100% productive every day. Entering a given day with a shorter, achievable to-do list is better than trying (and failing) to complete a longer list. Trust your gut and acknowledge your capabilities at the start of every day. A regular mental reset on Wednesdays helps you finish every week strong.
4. Unplug to reconnect
Deadlines and a sense of dread can go hand in hand. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, limit your distractions and focus on the tasks at hand. Consider disabling your wifi, even if it’s just for a few hours. Sync all relevant websites and documents offline, set a specific goal, and go to town. You’ll be amazed what you can accomplish when twitter and Facebook aren’t flashing. This technique fits well into your regular weekly schedule, too.
For added productivity, turn off your phone and chuck it into your bag. Do your clients or colleagues need to be able to reach you at all times? If this is a problem, make sure to let them know ahead of time that you’re planning to go offline. If you don’t feel comfortable turning off your phone, at least use do not disturb mode. Program in a few unmissable callers (your spouse, your most important clients, etc.). This way, you’re at least limiting the majority of potential interruptions.
5. Speak up and set boundaries
It may seem simple in concept, but as we all know it can often be hard to vocalize what you need in a given situation. At the end of the day, you are the only one responsible for your own unhappiness. If a situation isn’t working for you, it’s up to you to figure out how to change either the situation or your attitude in order to get the results you crave. Figure out what your own boundaries are. Vocalize them with your team, or those who sit near you.
If you know you need to have your head down getting a work sprint down, put on your headphones or reserve a meeting room for a few hours. If people are engaged in a distracting conversation near your desk, politely ask them to take their conversation elsewhere instead of sitting there silent, angry, and distracted while you lose valuable work time.
We teach others how to treat us. If you don’t share what you need to be successful, you have no basis to become frustrated with others when they don’t respect your boundaries. Simple as that.
The truth is that no office design is perfect. If an open-plan coworking space calls to you, it’s up to you to figure out what will make it work for you.
Working in a coworking space has many amazing benefits. Often, these selling points are worth the drawbacks. You can’t change the layout of your space. But you can make some changes that will still impact your productivity in a major way. Personal responsibility is underrated when it comes to productivity. When you own your productivity, the results will amaze you.