QuickTip: Playing in Traffic is Dangerous – Increase Focus via Workspace Arrangement

Whenever I speak to audiences about productivity, be it during a training seminar or a keynote presentation, I always, always, always recommend that they face away from passing traffic.  The urge to look up is so strong and whenever we fall prey to that urge, we lose our focus.

The natural tendency to look up whenever someone passes by is instinctive.  It’s probably a survival mechanism long-instilled in our psyche to observe the “threat” before it consumes us.  Instead of trying to change our genetic conditioning, let’s see what other options we have.

Position A – Command Central

Most work spaces are configured such that people can see who enters them.  Whether you’re in an office or a cubicle, you usually face those who approach you.  I fashion this Command Central – you command your space by knowing all who enter. 

Innocuous as that seems, the problem is that the human eye has a vision arc of approximately 120 degrees (see Vision Span at Wikipedia).  Thus, when you’ve got your head down focusing on the work at hand, you can see quite a ways “up” in front of you.  That’s why you tend to look up whenever someone passes by your work area.

Each of those slight interruptions add up over the day.  Assume it’s only a two-second interruption and that it only happens 30 times per day.  That’s one minute each day of “lost” time.  Over the course of the average work year – about 220 days – you’ve lost four hours of productivity.  That’s 1/2 of a day in head nods!

Of course, the bigger problem lies in what can happen when you look up.  What’s that, you ask?  That the person passing by makes eye contact, comes into your work area, sits down and starts talking to you!  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m a huge fan of strong working relationships with co-workers and colleagues.  But impromptu team building is not the way to accomplish that goal.

The oft-quoted figure on the time it takes to regain focus once interrupted is 20 minutes.  Assuming this drop-in interruption only happens once a week, you’re still losing about 17 hours of productivity each year just trying to get back on task after that impromptu conversation!  Do you really want to spend two extra days each year getting your work done all in the name of unintended team building?

Position B – The Non-Feng-Shui QuietSpacing® Workspace Positioning Recommendation

The solution is to position yourself such that you face away from passing traffic.  If you have an office, position your desk against the wall furthest from the door.  That way people are passing by off your left shoulder.  In addition to eliminating the twitch response to look up on your part, those passing by can see you are working and are more likely leave you alone!  This arrangement also opens up your workspace, giving you a number of furniture arrangement options – like placing a small round table between you and the door so people have a place to come and work with you right in the office.

If you don’t have an office, you can still position yourself to face completely away from passing traffic or mostly away from passing traffic.  Any reduction in the chance you’ll look up pays dividends in terms of increasing your focus and your productivity.

Less Twitching is Always Good

When you position your work space away from passing traffic, you reduce the number of instances that your attention is diverted from the task at hand.  The result is increased productivity and more time on your hands to do other things – like head down to the water cooler to catch up on the latest!

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