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Latina Cubicle Confidential™ — I Can’t Get Anything Done With All this Distraction!

By Dr. Maria G. Hernandez
Latina Cubicle Confidential™

Do you work in a noisy “cubicle farm”? Do people stop by to “chat” when you least expect? Are you about ready to scream for silence so you can just think? You are not alone.

Researchers have found that once interrupted from a task, only 40% of us get back to the original task while 60% of us wander off track to something else. As if that’s not enough, your cubicle is getting smaller.

In the 1970’s, the average office space was 500 – 700 square feet. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times today your cubicle is likely to be about 200 square feet and to top it off — those fabric walls are getting shorter too. The newest trend is to eliminate cubicles all together and use more “open space” for collaboration and team work.

A quick look at a variety of websites that feature “cubicle rants” will reveal that people are tired of hearing their colleagues personal conversations, smelling their lunch, and, gasp, yes, hearing them belch!

While younger workers seem to welcome this trend, for others the lack of some private space is a source of concern about all the distractions that can hinder productivity.

What can you do to stay focused?

If you have any options to work from home at least one day of the week, make sure you use that opportunity. You may be able to save that quiet time to get your most difficult work done at home with fewer distractions. Unfortunately, the US Census reports that only 5% of the US workforce has that option, though. If you can’t work from home, some offices allow you to reserve a conference room to get a quiet space to work when meetings are not taking place.

Next, lead by example. You may be able to set the tone with your cube-mates and set an example of positive cubicle etiquette.

Limit the personal phone calls that can only draw in curious people to ask you about your personal life or worse create chismes — rumors — that can take distraction to new heights. Turn off your computer speakers and your cell phone so that those noisy alerts aren’t cascading across your cubicle to someone else. Eat your lunch away from your desk regardless of how delicious you think the aromas of that enchilada platter may be. Don’t barge into anyone’s cubicle without asking first if it’s a convenient time to do so. Talk about cubicle etiquette during staff meetings to look for ways of promoting a distraction-free workplace.

If you are starting out on something that has never been discussed in the past, anticipate it will take time to change the culture of your workplace.

Set boundaries for your family and friends regarding personal calls. While they may have your cell phone number to call, not all calls need to be answered. Let them know ahead of time that you’ll call back during breaks or lunch time when you can step away from your cubicle. If you must take a call, keep it short. If it’s going to need a lot of your attention, take your break then to get it resolved or find someone who can help you address the issue at home.

Use earplugs or noise-canceling head sets for part of the day — if — and this is an important “if” — you can use these without creating more noise yourself. If you like to hear your music loud, then you can be sure your cube mates can hear that music, too.

The harsh reality on distraction in the workplace is that much of it is happening right at your own desk. Managing all those screens, the emails, the phone calls and text messages is yet another layer of distraction.

At the very least, make sure your cubicle and your cube mates work together to keep the workplace as productive as possible.

Tell me about your strategies for staying focused on the job at Latina Cubicle Confidential™ or join me live at LatinaVIDA™

Dr. Maria G. Hernandez has 20 years experience consulting in both the United States and Mexico to senior executives in Fortune 50 companies and facilitated change initiatives for elected officials and their staff. She has worked in academia, business, nonprofits, technology startups, and public agencies. For more information, visit Latina Cubicle Confidential™.

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