Thursday, June 04, 2015

The $1.99 Way to Increase Concentration at Work

By Sarah Larson

Open-office floorplans have their pros and cons, and learning to function well within one is an important productivity factor for most businesses.

Introduced decades ago as an alternative to offices and, later, cubicles, open-office floorplans are now the norm in most workplaces. According to Forbes, nearly 7 out of 10 American employees now work in open-concept offices. While the economists and organizational psychologists debate the open-office's impact on attention span, productivity, and creative thinking, however, those of us who work in them every day have to figure out how to make the space work for them.

Which brings me to the Best iTunes Purchase of All-Time. Let me introduce you to White Noise.

Anyone with a brain that whirrs at a million miles an hour knows that that can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. Whether you have actual, diagnosable Attention Deficit Disorder or are just surrounded by distractions, finding ways to shut out the world so you can focus on the task at hand is crucial to increasing productivity and boosting creativity.

Different people and different office cultures develop their own coping mechanisms and routines. Quick daily meetings to set group priorities and keeping chatting to a minimum for at least a couple hours at a time can help, but when every phone conversation can be heard from every corner of a room, sometimes you need more.

White Noise offers "more" - and then some.

I actually downloaded White Noise at the suggestion of a friend when I was on a weekend trip away from home. Used to sleeping with a fan on in the background, I had spent a nearly sleepless night staring at the ceiling listening to the water from the shower in the room next door, people passing in the hallway, and the incessant tick tick ticking of my own heartbeat. Every "fan" app I tried failed miserably.

Then, I found White Noise. The next night, the heavens opened, and the angels sang me to sleep. Well, not exactly. But the uncannily realistic sound of ocean waves lapping through my earbuds did lull me into dreamland.

More than that, however, I found a variety of auditory adventures amongst the app's catalog of more than 40 "perfectly looped" sounds. "Amazon Jungle" includes twittering birds and insects, "Boat Swaying in Water" features the creaking of a sailboat, and flames crackle and spark in "Camp Fire." "Cat Purring," "Crickets Chirping" and "Frogs at Night" sound exactly as you would expect them to, while "Beach Waves Crashing" sounds different than "Ocean Waves Crashing," and there are no less than six variations of rain sounds.

My favorite to listen to at work when I need to focus, especially on writing, editing, or strategizing, is "Rain Storm." Something about the patter of the raindrops and the crack of the thunder just works for me.

So now, when I need to concentrate, I let my co-workers know "I will be listening to the rain for the next two hours because I need to get some work done." They know not to distract me unless it is urgent, and I am able to tune out nearly everything around me and just write, or edit, or craft media strategy - and that is well worth the $1.99.

Do you have any tips or tricks to increasing focus and concentration at work? We would love to hear them.

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