The Science Behind Distraction and How You Can Increase Your Productivity in a Coworking Space

If you think that a coworking space could never work for you due to the distractions it presents, think again.  Research shows that coworking members report an increase in productivity over working from home.  Working from home definitely presents a number of challenges, all of which take a lot of self-discipline to overcome.  In order to be more focused while working, we need to understand what leads us to distraction in the first place.


Why do we get distracted in the first place?

Ever worked from home and found yourself pausing to clean the kitchen, play with your dog, or look through old yearbooks instead of, you know, actually doing your work?  At the end of the day, you find that you haven’t accomplished as much as you hoped.  But what is the science behind our distraction?

A study from the University of Illinois found that, contrary to popular belief, participants were apt to become distracted when performing easier tasks in the experiment as opposed to more difficult ones.  They also found that the difficulty level of each task had less of an impact on distractibility when participants performed a mix of tasks that were both easy and challenging.  Their conclusion?  Both a task’s difficulty and a person’s level of engagement with a task impact whether they’ll lose focus.


How can we stay focused?

What this research tells us, then, is that staying engaged with your work is the easiest way to keep from losing focus.  Coworking spaces can definitely come with their own set of distractions, but there are some things you can do to combat them and keep your engagement with your work high: 

1)   Save chit-chat for specific times:  If you work in a coworking space or are considering signing up for one, the fact that you’re surrounded by other people may strike you as a potential distraction source.  While getting to know your coworking neighbors is encouraged, it’s probably not a good idea to spend your entire day chatting with your deskmate.  Reserve chit-chat for when you take a break, which leads us to point number 2.

2)   Take regular breaks:  By taking breaks throughout the day, you not only stay focused:  you also help prevent the burnout that comes with long, unbroken periods of work.  A study of UK office workers found that in an 8-hour workday, they were actually only productive for about 3 hours of that time (yikes).   To remedy that and give yourself some time to check Instagram, a good rule of thumb is to take a 15-minute break every 75-90 minutes.  During this break, don’t start working on something else.  Make it an actual break from your projects for the day.  Eat a snack.  Make some coffee.  Look at dog pictures online.  The important thing is to give your brain a rest, recharge, and process the information you’ve taken in so far.

3)   Limit your notifications:  This can be a tough one, especially for remote workers and freelancers.  How can you stay in touch with clients if you don’t have access to your cell phone or things like Slack and email?  However, if you can, it’s a good idea to either turn off notifications or put the phone away when you really want to knock out some work as research shows that even the presence of a cell phone can negatively impact your concentration.  While cell phones and online messaging tools definitely serve a purpose in the life of a freelancer or telecommuter, they need to be used wisely during your workday.


What should I know about coworking in terms of distractions?

As we said before, it’s not the environment but the difficulty of and engagement with your work that really impacts your focus. If you carry bad habits with you to a coworking space, you’ll likely experience the same issues with distraction that you find in a home office.  That’s why it’s also important to understand your individual work style so you can have a workspace that meets those needs.


Are you someone who gets thrown off by any amount of noise while you’re working?  Choose a workspace with a low noise level and/or private/semi-private seating options so that you can have the solitude you need to focus.  Don’t mind background noise and conversation?  A shared or dedicated desk would likely work for you.  The important thing to remember is that distractions can be found everywhere.  It’s all about the tools you give yourself to combat them and stay on track.