“If only my coworker would stop chewing so loudly I could concentrate.”
“I’m sorry. I got nothing done because Jimmy wouldn’t stop yelling in his cube.”
These are the types of phrases that come up the most often when asking friends and coworkers what prevents them from being calm and mindful at work. It’s possible that you might not even know that the volume and intensity around you is dragging down your day… but you found your way to this article so it’s clear that some part of you knows that the volume of work is effecting your mood. Don’t worry. We have some practical tips on how to not just “get through it,” but to thrive in the workplace.
Side note: Almost all of us struggle with office noise. But if you’re “Type A” and social like I am, you might accidentally find yourself being the loud, disruptive coworker — if so, that’s okay. We’ve got you covered there too with another article on how to become quiet at work.
But for those that are trying to escape eternal stimuli, check out the following steps. We’ll give you two major routes:
- Working through the noise
- Getting away from it
- Listen to Noise. Wait… what? Yes, we don’t want you listening to music because that would distract from your job. And from a mindfulness perspective, we’d like to encourage you to focus on one thing at a time. After all, music is great enough that you don’t need to muddle it with some other activity. You wouldn’t sample a rare, delicate cheese while you’re working your way through a Big Bang Theory marathon, would you? Okay, okay, we’re not monsters here at CubicleBuddha.com, and in fact sometimes I listen to music while I crank out software at my day job. When I do, I try to listen to something without lyrics or something in a different language (yay J-Pop!) so I don’t get sucked in as much. But the first line of defense for blocking your noisy cube mates should be pink noise. Did you think I was going to say white noise? No, pink noise has a smoother sound that is still non musical. And since pink noise and white noise both cover the human hearing spectrum, they have a strong chance of blocking out Jimmy’s loud chewing. Who brings carrots to work anyway? But seriously, don’t feel the need to buy noise-canceling headphones since they are only designed to block constantly repeating sounds like a fan– they’re not going to be able to block your coworkers loud outbursts when she makes a sale. Stick to noise. In fact, the best way to introduce pink noise is to turn on a fan or space heater near you. If that’s not working for you, Pandora and YouTube both have pink noise playlists.
- Be Strong And Communicate Your Needs. In some cases the disturbance at work has gone past what is appropriate for workplace volume. In those scenarios you can either let the frustration fester into anger or you can find a polite way to ask the person to make a change. I know that seems hard since most people abhor confrontation, but anything is better than ignoring your feelings– it’s not healthy for you or your team. But before you walk over to your coworker and let out your frustration, repeat this koan from Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, “Speak the truth, but not to punish.” Author James Hoggan explained this quote perfectly by saying, “Anger can give us the mettle to speak with courage and conviction, but also the venom that blinds us to the views of others.” He’s challenging us to calm our minds before we walk over. Maybe then when we walk over we’ll have the right mindset and the right energy to ask for the quiet that we need. Maybe then we can listen and be a friend to our coworker who might also be struggling in a different way than us. The best way to calm down and open up is our next option, breathing.
- Breathing. Yes, the old Buddhist standby. I won’t spoil the fun now since we’ll be returning to the topic of mindful breathing in future articles. But for now, just know that focusing on your breathing gives you an opportunity to (a) nourish your mind with oxygen and to (b) lower your heart rate. Afterwards you might find some good clarity of mind. To focus on your breathing, take a deep breath in through your nostrils, hold for a count of three, and then release the breath slowly from your mouth as if you were blowing out a birthday cake with 100 candles and needed to take your time. (Be sure to like this blog on Facebook to follow along for future articles on mindful breathing.)
Speaking of clarity of mind, sometimes you’ve got to just get away from the problem. And if a short walk doesn’t do the trick and maybe your workplace isn’t conducive to getting stuff done. If so, we’ve got a special list.
Sometimes coping in the office isn’t gonna cut it and have to change the space to better meet your needs. Or you have to leave to find a better space.
Teach your company the better way: If working from home isn’t something that will fly at your job, consider advising your workplace on the “Caves And Commons” approach which preaches for the best of both worlds between collaboration and productivity. Although this office setup has been discussed as early as 1995, most offices have missed the point and just give people “commons areas” *cough* cubicles with half-walls *cough*. Cubicles don’t appear to work for most people and the half-wall variety are even noisier. So if you’re struggling with that, consider sending your boss a link to these important early writings on productive room setups.
Leave breadcrumbs: Maybe your boss doesn’t want to change the room layout, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own quiet space. Do this by having a sign on your desk that tells people where you are, and then leave for a quiet office or conference room (a “cave”) that isn’t currently in use. When you’re done kicking butt, come back to the “commons” again and collaborate with your peers.
Work from home: If none of those tips above work, you might just need to get out of the unproductive environment. Start by asking for a partial work-from-home agreement so that you can have some days to crank through some coding, and other days to be more collaborative with your peers.
Hopefully these tips give you enough options to feel more positive about your work situation. Either way, you can feel better knowing that other people struggle with these issues. You’re not alone. If you’re reading this and you feel like you’re thriving in spite of the volume and the chaos, please leave some tips in the comments for those who need help. What’s work best for you?
(Original image by Sarita Rungsakorn)
Tune in next week for more examples of people kicking butt in their cubicles. In the meantime... what’s the meanest or loudest thing a coworker did to distract you? And how did you cope with it?