How to stay Focused in an Open Office Environment

I work in an open office environment and I constantly struggle with intrusions on my concentration at work. I work as the sole marketing person in a financial company so my day is essentially a constant stream of people coming to my desk to request graphics or document edits. I have tried to encourage people to send requests via email so I can prioritize and triage based on priority however that never lasts long.

I put headphones on when I’m really trying to focus to try and discourage people from talking to me in person but it rarely seems effective. I am struggling with the constant abrupt project switches and I find my days so unproductive and i’m exhausted by the end of it.

Any advice is appreciated. My sanity is at stake.

Talk to your boss about being able to work away from your desk for a certain amount of time per day. Or come to work early to get important work done so you don’t have to care that much about the interruptions.

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Is it possible to telework at least one day a week?

Does your office have huddle rooms or phone booths that you can reserve for a few hours a day?



Perhaps you could schedule daily “open door” hours which you advise your coworkers that you’re available for walk up chats. At the same time mention your busy hours and ask that people observe this period for you to work on all the jobs they’ve given you. Open office, cubicle or private office you will have the same problem anyway.

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As open office environments go, they all suck IMO, and I’m backed by numerous scientific studies on this. However, I don’t see them going away either, so we’re stuck having to do the best of a challenging situation.

From your short description, it seems you have a more serious problem though. It kinda sounds like you are a “free resource” available for anyone’s request to do ad-hoc work? How easy is it for you to decline a request or say “Yes, I’ll get that to you by Thursday next week”?

Your field is Marketing. As the sole responsible person, you should set the marketing plan and priorities for the coming period. In collaboration with the business, of course, but you need to know what is in the pipeline and how important things are relative to one another. Campaigns, advertisements, social media posts, mailers, billboards, public or customer events, get it all on the calendar and into the marketing plan. Requests that align with the overall plan should get priority, anything else will be in your “best effort” backlog.

One thing that is (hopefully) understood in financial organizations: money. Another thing to try is to put a price tag on your services. For any work request, be sure to get a project code or cost center to charge your hours to. This should bring clarity to where your efforts are going. If your company is not currently set up for internal charging or time tracking, make up a scheme on your own in Excel or Numbers. Track your time to create a baseline over a couple of weeks. Hard data and facts will come in handy for a discussion with your line manager.

Good luck!


Red and green signs (a colleague of mine made paper boxes in those colours) in a visible position

Red means do not disturb
Green means I’m available

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Different job, but I used to go to a conference room in the morning just to line up all tasks for the day. Then I got to leave the office to go do my job (I.T.) but hopefully that would help.

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Thank you for your advice. I appreciate it. The company I work for is small so when I started everyone was wearing multiple hats, when I first started I didn’t have as much on my plate so I had lots of time for ad hoc work, It set a precedent with my co-workers and as more stuff has been added to my role it’s been harder to adjust. I need to set better boundaries and expectations with co-workers as well. And honestly, a lot of what I do has nothing to do with marketing either. Somehow along the way I’ve become technical support, admin assistant and marketing coordinator and juggling it is tricky. I think I’ll have to have a conversation with my manager soon about prioritization.


That’s a good idea. I might have to implement something like that.

I’m in the same situation. We have this team near us that’s all women, and when they get together they can talk… and talk loud. The laughing, especially at jokes that aren’t funny is intolerable to say the least. I waited about two weeks just in case this was all in my head and I was being unreasonable. But eventually I decided to mention it to my manager - who we all work remotely from. She told me that she’d speak to their manager. 20 minutes later, call back and she says that the problem-team’s manager had been asking my and other managers if they’d had any complaints, as basically others on the floor had also complained already. This addressed the issue for the most part, though it’s still loud and hard to focus at times, but to an extent where you’d expect it in a shared floor.

Next issue: one woman, who in my head I nickname Menopause-Woman keeps getting up and opening the window, first thing in the morning in late November in the UK… opening up noise from traffic and fumes from traffic and making it bloody freezing! Again, waited a week and a bit, but the other day got up and shut it. No bite back. But again, the struggles of the open office continue… what will it be next?

Best of luck in your situation, but I guess my post is more of a #MeToo! lol

Not really.

A bit misogynistic though.



You could get the essence of your post across without the sexism. Was is necessary to mention they are all women?

Homogenous groups of people tend to be somewhat ignorant towards their surroundings. So stating the group’s homogeneity is not sexist.

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I thought he was trying to get away from snark…

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I have this sign at my desk I point at when someone comes to me when I have my headphones on. (got it from a colleague years ago)

They laugh, and move on…

Job done!


I might steal this at some point haha! Thanks

So did I :slight_smile:
And it really works

I use a combination of noise-cancelling headphones ($80 TaoTronics ones from Amazon) with reusable earplugs underneath for extra noise cancelling. Add a little bit of music or generated white noise and I can’t hear a thing.

I also have a cheap RGB remote-controlled LED light on my desk that I will switch between green (free) and red (do not disturb). It took some time, but people understand and only a few still find it weird, but I have a good sense of humor about it. I’d like to upgrade my LED lamp to an actual Philips Hue bulb and create a programmable pomodoro configuration for work time and breaks.

My biggest issue is getting distracted when people walk in front of or by my desk, but I refuse to start wearing horse blinders so I’m resigned to just practice my visual focus and maybe get more monitors…


That’s a cool idea Re: the LED lights. I also really need to invest in noise cancelling headphones. It’s one of those things I keep meaning to buy but never actually get around to.

:yawning_face: tired of hearing things like that, just because they happen to be women doesn’t make it an issue with the fact they’re women. True experience, genuine problem. Would be just as much a problem if it were a group of guys.

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