It’s not bad to spend some of your work time slacking off or recharging. But sometimes you need to buckle down and spend a couple of hours working without distractions. Here’s Lifehacker’s guide to holding your own study hall.
Open plan offices are most people's personal hell. Unfortunately, we're unlikely to suddenly all get our own personal workspace (with a door) which means they're here to stay. Since we'll just have to put up with them, here are some strategies to help cope with a bunch of noise while working.
Schedule it on your calendar
Instead of an open-ended work session, plan a specific in and out. You can show up early and stay late. But I like to plan something for afterward, so I have a deadline for finishing my work.
Make an agenda for your work session, as you would a meeting. List the things you hope to accomplish. Make a doable to-do list. Schedule out subtasks and, if possible, estimate how much time each will take.
Do some prep
Prep your supplies. Gather all the “purse stuff” you might need: tissues, lip balm, cash, pens, headphones. Mentally picture yourself working (or sit where you’ll be working, if you’re nearby) and list what you’ll need. Open up all the relevant apps and sites on your computer, and make sure each is available. Check for any login info, written notes, and other resources you’ll need.
Load some distraction blockers. Install Freedom to block distracting sites and apps, switch your phone to Aeroplane Mode, turn off notifications on every device.
Choose a helpful location
If your work is portable, take your work materials to a different spot than usual. It can be somewhere you’ve worked before, but it should be somewhere you’ve never goofed off in before (or at least in a long time). Somewhere you haven’t sat down to work, and then not worked. This can be a coffeeshop, the library, your friend’s apartment, a lobby, another room in your home.
Choose a spot where people are watching. Personally, I can work more productively in a café when people can see my screen. I’m convinced that a stranger will judge me if they see me getting distracted from my work. Even if you’re less paranoid than me, having some people around can add a little social pressure, even if they have no idea what you’re up to.
Choose a place that’s comfy but not too comfy. Your needs might include food, drink, a clean surface, a bathroom, wifi, or laptop power. Some are important to have on hand. Some can turn into a separate project—spending a ton of money to earn your seat at the café, or constantly adjusting your seat, or negotiating a spot next to an outlet. I personally recommend libraries over anywhere with music and food.
Minimise the number of comforts you need by eating beforehand, or juicing up your laptop, or only bringing paper and pen. If you’re running on battery power, or working in a library with no food allowed, use that limitation as a built-in deadline. (If I start a Lifehacker post shortly before lunch, I’m motivated to get it done quickly.)
Get a partner
If company keeps you focused, then get some. Choose someone you can bounce ideas off, someone who does complementary work, or someone who’s generally productive or focused. Don’t choose someone you love to talk to about non-productive things—if you want to hang out with your friend, just go hang out with your friend.
You and your partner should share your agendas, and check on each other’s progress at designated times. Also schedule a break or two, instead of letting work devolve into chatter at unspecified times.
Working in an office can often be a distracting experience, so distracting that the mindless chatter around you ends up making your productivity take a hit.