The average office worker gets interrupted or distracted every three minutes. This interruption comes from colleagues, one of the 204 million emails sent per minute (which we check 30x every hour) or one of the eight windows open on your computer.
All these distractions really make it difficult for all of us to be productive. According to the office furniture company Steelcase, our brain saps 20 per cent of the body’s energy. This is more than any other organ, which makes it physiologically impossible to engage in eight straight hours of controlled, focused attention.
We want to be more effective but the harder we try, the more tired our brain becomes. Attention meltdowns are epidemic according to Donna Flynn.
Steelcase argues there are three distinct brain modes which need different spaces and settings. The first one is deep focus, which requires avoiding external or internal distractions. The second one is regeneration, where rest gives the brain a time out. And the last one is activation, meaning movements can motivate the brain.
The Middle East survey showed a third of the workers struggle with focus because of loud conversations, chatty colleagues and an overload of emails. In most companies there is no space for employees to relax. A recommendation of Steelcase is to implement coffee bars, informal lounges.
Almost a third complains there isn’t even enough space to move around or change position. A treadmill or moveable desks could be the solution for this problem. Even stand-up meetings could do the trick.
There isn’t a single type of optimal work setting; the right balance needs to be found. This goes far beyond the traditional discussion of open versus private offices.
Why is all this distraction bad?
First of multi-tasking is just rapidly switching between tasks. This may increase your error rate up till 50 per cent. It is better to get into a certain “flow”, a state in which we are most productive, because we are fully focussed on our task or challenge.
Who decided we should work eight hours a day anyway?
Robert Owen came up with the idea of an eight-hour day and 40-hour work week, during the Industrial Revolution in Britain. He came up with this idea to reduce the working life from 16 to 10 hours a day and six days a week.
Where did the open-plan office come from?
Architects, in the US in the late 19th century, used cast-iron girders to open up large spaces within a building, putting clerics in rows of desks and bosses in corner offices with a monopoly on windows. Subsequently, German designers came up with the idea of “Burolandschaft”. Burolandschaft is office landscaping with work zones, and an open layout to encourage interaction between employees and departments.
Does my attention span change naturally?
According to research, circadian rhythms affect your performance. This is the case for sensory, verbal and motor skills, reaction time and memory. This means you have most self-control and attention at the start of the day. So it’s pretty clear it’s best to do demanding tasks in the morning, straight after you arrive at work.
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