Hide in the office (or work at home) and get more done

I’m not a huge fan of working in offices anymore. Not only am I rather out of practice (only one year in the past 10 have I gone into an “office” everyday), but I find them one of the biggest anti-workplaces I know. I enjoy writing and working in a coffee shop more than an office. Why?

People.

In an office there are people (well, duh), but because there are people you have to abide by standard social norms. If someone calls your name, not responding is considered rather rude. Never answering your phone or not showing up to meetings is “not being a team player”. Yeah, great, but what about “getting work done”, when do I get to do that?

This video by 37Signals Jason Fried (which I found thanks to WebWorkerDaily—Why Modern Workplaces Don’t Work – WebWorkerDaily) tells it like it is. The “workplace” is the worst place to get work done.

When I need to write something, concentrate on something, think, read, or code (i.e. work) I need get into that mode and zone. I need some focus and some quiet, and not to be asked random questions or asked to look at something. So on go the noise-isolating earbuds— pretty much these ones in fact-Shure Sound Isolating In-Ear Earphones (SE115) – Red – Future Shop—and away goes the world.

Not quite up there on the “workplace etiquette” scale through.

So, what I suggest is something in between, let’s call it hiding in plain sight. Start with:

  • Ignore IMs
  • Book blocks of time “busy” on your calendar, which is really code for “I”m working don’t bug me.”
  • Let your phone go to voicemail.
  • Turn off audio notifications for email, etc.

Essentially turn the tables on your co-workers. Instead of attention, demand inattention. I know, this is extremely anti-social. With open-concept offices, someone is going to wander by (or throw something) or call out your name to get your attention. Here’s the thing, maybe have them watch Jason’s video. Ask your manager to consider having “standing meetings” where you don’t sit, you stand (pretty much guaranteed to make the meeting last about 20 mins max). Try to work on building a culture of working at work and giving people the time and space to work, instead of a culture of interruption.

Or, you can just work from home.

Comments

  1. says

    The standing meeting trick is a part of some agile methodologies… definitely encourages everybody to say what they need to say and then get out and back to work.

    Home isn’t a great workplace for me… dogs barking, phone ringing, people interrupting… and that’s before you get to the “maybe I’ll just reconfigure the NFS shares on the server right now”.

    Coffee shops are a mixed bag for me – the people watching can be distracting and the Brit in me is always thinking “I finished my coffee 5 minutes ago… I’m not sure I should still be sitting here”.

    My favourite workplace is the library: quiet, good wi-fi, full of other people working, lots of power-points. And great reference material should the internet fail to answer your query.

    • says

      I haven’t tried the library for a while. Mostly because I link a coffee while I work. The problem I find with coffee shops is that it’s best done with a friend to two. Even if you don’t talk, you just need a trusted soul to watch your stuff while you get refills etc.

      Home is mostly fine for me, I don’t have as many interruptions as you do, but the TV does sometimes suck me in for a while.

  2. says

    The standing meeting trick is a part of some agile methodologies… definitely encourages everybody to say what they need to say and then get out and back to work.

    Home isn’t a great workplace for me… dogs barking, phone ringing, people interrupting… and that’s before you get to the “maybe I’ll just reconfigure the NFS shares on the server right now”.

    Coffee shops are a mixed bag for me – the people watching can be distracting and the Brit in me is always thinking “I finished my coffee 5 minutes ago… I’m not sure I should still be sitting here”.

    My favourite workplace is the library: quiet, good wi-fi, full of other people working, lots of power-points. And great reference material should the internet fail to answer your query.

    • says

      I haven’t tried the library for a while. Mostly because I link a coffee while I work. The problem I find with coffee shops is that it’s best done with a friend to two. Even if you don’t talk, you just need a trusted soul to watch your stuff while you get refills etc.

      Home is mostly fine for me, I don’t have as many interruptions as you do, but the TV does sometimes suck me in for a while.

  3. Ellena says

    Being that I am a stay-at-home-mom, when working on my writing, my home environment can pose a huge challenge. I try to get up early in the morning but either the creative flow is stagnate or my youngest somehow has mommy radar and wakes up to find me and says, ‘I just want to see what you are up to.’ I do enjoy the escape to the coffee shop to write as the change of scene does me good but I don’t get out often. Recently, I have been making good use of sitting in the carline at my son’s school. The youngest is usually passed out in his car seat and I my pack writing materials and can get at least 25 minutes of uninterrupted time.

    • says

      Ellena I feel for you. It seems that kids have an uncanny sense of asking important questions when you’re either on a roll or just “this close” to figuring something out. Working in the car is a great solution. At least for a while. My kids knew that when I was working on something that just needed to get done, that if there wasn’t fire or blood, it was best to wait until later.

  4. Ellena says

    Being that I am a stay-at-home-mom, when working on my writing, my home environment can pose a huge challenge. I try to get up early in the morning but either the creative flow is stagnate or my youngest somehow has mommy radar and wakes up to find me and says, ‘I just want to see what you are up to.’ I do enjoy the escape to the coffee shop to write as the change of scene does me good but I don’t get out often. Recently, I have been making good use of sitting in the carline at my son’s school. The youngest is usually passed out in his car seat and I my pack writing materials and can get at least 25 minutes of uninterrupted time.

    • says

      Ellena I feel for you. It seems that kids have an uncanny sense of asking important questions when you’re either on a roll or just “this close” to figuring something out. Working in the car is a great solution. At least for a while. My kids knew that when I was working on something that just needed to get done, that if there wasn’t fire or blood, it was best to wait until later.

  5. says

    Right now I am being serenaded by heavy metal guitar practicing from the living room and chattering from my wife (which is why I’m here passive-aggressively complaining about it).

    I spent an hour on Friday evening working in Starbucks after the library closed. On the one hand I did get a good chunk of work done, on the other hand I was a jittery caffeinated wreck by the end of it. Guess I need to switch to decaf :-)

    I assume you’re not supposed to have any food/drink in the library but plenty of people bring in cups of coffee and I always have a bottle of water with me. In fact the library acknowledges this – at the entrance to the special books collection on the top floor there’s a sign saying “don’t bring any food/drink in here”… which implies that it’s quietly accepted elsewhere in the library.

    • says

      Yes can’t focus on solid writing unless there is either a paucity of other humans in the house or the other human is tied up with something else.

      Even then, it’s rather hard to ignore requests from your spouse when they come in. Not in the best interest of your relationship to just flat-out ignore them.

  6. says

    Right now I am being serenaded by heavy metal guitar practicing from the living room and chattering from my wife (which is why I’m here passive-aggressively complaining about it).

    I spent an hour on Friday evening working in Starbucks after the library closed. On the one hand I did get a good chunk of work done, on the other hand I was a jittery caffeinated wreck by the end of it. Guess I need to switch to decaf :-)

    I assume you’re not supposed to have any food/drink in the library but plenty of people bring in cups of coffee and I always have a bottle of water with me. In fact the library acknowledges this – at the entrance to the special books collection on the top floor there’s a sign saying “don’t bring any food/drink in here”… which implies that it’s quietly accepted elsewhere in the library.

    • says

      Yes can’t focus on solid writing unless there is either a paucity of other humans in the house or the other human is tied up with something else.

      Even then, it’s rather hard to ignore requests from your spouse when they come in. Not in the best interest of your relationship to just flat-out ignore them.

  7. says

    Hi Tris from South Africa :-)

    Just to say I run my bookkeeping business from home and am often found in my dressing gown at my computer at 11am and later! Having been a banker for over 25 years, I LOVE being in charge of my time and no longer having to do the whole make-up, hair and power dressing thing!

    I have just bought and devoured your book Create your Own Blog. What a great resource for me – a clueless wanderer on the www!
    From re-reading your book this morning, I ‘discovered’ Windows Live Writer. WHAT a revelation! Just shows how totally green I am! So you see ‘geeks’ like you are lifesavers for the likes of me!
    Best regards, Eileen

  8. says

    Hi Tris from South Africa :-)

    Just to say I run my bookkeeping business from home and am often found in my dressing gown at my computer at 11am and later! Having been a banker for over 25 years, I LOVE being in charge of my time and no longer having to do the whole make-up, hair and power dressing thing!

    I have just bought and devoured your book Create your Own Blog. What a great resource for me – a clueless wanderer on the www!
    From re-reading your book this morning, I ‘discovered’ Windows Live Writer. WHAT a revelation! Just shows how totally green I am! So you see ‘geeks’ like you are lifesavers for the likes of me!
    Best regards, Eileen

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