Getting some ‘lonely’: hiding out for greater productivity

16/2/2016 |

Article written by Beth Parker

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When I first opened my business, the most common comment I heard was, “Oh, you’ll find a home office lonely.”

Lonely? I could use a bit of lonely. With multiple projects on the go, meetings face-to-face and on line, telephone, email, social media, networking and the constant noise of houses being renovated on our street – I fall into the category of a growing number of knowledge workers desperately seeking solitude.

Today’s knowledge workers plead “help us focus!”

It’s not just me. 90,000 knowledge workers from 155 companies were asked to describe:

1) how they work (their main activity)
2) what would improve their effectiveness

The single most important activity turned out to be focus work. That is, work involving concentration and attention devoted to a particular task or project. And regardless of whether individuals were working outside a corporate office or on their own, focus work turned out to be the least supported activity.

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In order words, we all need more lonely. It will help us do our jobs more effectively, and ironically, collaborate better. In the words of the study’s authors, “quiet becomes not a nicety, it is a necessity.”

Our work environment affects our ability to concentrate

Another key finding was the importance of workplace location and design. Open office design, open doors, and see-through walls don’t help our concentration (surprised?).

Technology that constantly beeps not only interrupt our thoughts but delays the time it takes to get back on track. And in the field of “interruption science” (yes, there is such a thing), interruptions have been proven to be disruptive to performance and induce errors.

It seems that the only solution is to find a secluded hideaway. By forcing yourself to work “away”, you’ll focus on fewer tasks and manage your time better. Plus, there’s something about being holed up in a foreign space that helps concentration. According to one study, the ambient buzz of a coffee shop actually makes us more productive.

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Toronto’s best places for doing quiet work

In this Productivity Ninja girls’ attempt for some lonely, I set aside specific days when I hide out in an offsite location. I’ve come to know an alarming the number of coffee shops, categorized as to consistent (free) WIFI and hidden nooks.

Starbucks at Bloor and Christie is located in an old bank building, with a vault at the back for quiet work or booking a meeting. The price? A donation for the local food bank.

Juice & Java Café in the Toronto Beaches (2102 Queen St. East) has a large upstairs room with tables and dark corners.

My personal spot is Verity, a private, members-only Club for women in downtown Toronto. The club has several touchdown office spaces where your phone never rings! These days, most private clubs offer similar areas, including the Toronto Board of Trade.

I’ve also known business owners who’ve rented a hotel room for the day, borrowed someone else’s office, booked a meeting room at their company, or headed to the Toronto Reference Library.

The “out of the office” cover story

So you’re about to go “undercover, what do you tell people?

Well, there are a few things you shouldn’t say, e.g.: I’m working off site today so I can finally get some work done!” (ouch), or “I’ll be checking email all day so feel free to call or get in touch” (really?).

Just explain you are taking a few hours to do your focus work, or borrow my term, “have a cave day.” There are times that I meet, greet, network, and call; and there are times when I need to write in my cave. The two activities don’t mix well, so I assure everyone that I haven’t gone for more than a few hours (and will return calls/emails on my return).

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And as for where I am right now? — maybe we’ll just keep that quiet.

Need more tips on how to focus once you’ve found your quiet spot? Check out our post on how to manage your social media use.

Beth Parker is a Canadian author and ghostwriter engaged in a continual struggle to balance the needs of her business with the welcomed chaos of five children, a husband and various pets. She has a BA (English), University of Toronto, and an MA (Journalism). In her fictional spare time, she paints pictures.

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