Mind my own business!
May 28, 2014 2:21 PM   Subscribe

I am really easily distracted, especially by adjacent conversations. Do you have any tips for ignoring them?

I am fortunate enough to have an office with a door at work, but I can't totally isolate myself from all noise. For example, I share that office with my boss and when she is on a phone call I end up fixating on that conversation. Or if I'm in the house with someone who is watching TV within earshot, I find myself unable to not pay attention to the show, even if it's something I don't like or don't follow.

I often keep my door closed at work and wear headphones sometimes, but it's not always practical, and I also don't want to come across as unfriendly. At home it's not practical to be out of earshot of the TV or someone's phone conversation.

This habit is annoying and distracting and a big stressor in my life. I have a difficult time focusing at work and a hard time winding down at night because I am basically actively listening to something instead of focusing on what I want/need to do. So I ask you, Hive Mind, do you have any strategies for helping me mind my own business so I can focus?
posted by radioamy to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
What's impractical about wearing headphones when you need to think? I find it's both functional and a clear social signal that I am Trying To Work So Please Don't Bug Me Unless It's Important. Sennheiser HD280s, on my third pair, system's been working great for years.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:28 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I always carry earplugs in my purse. It helps a lot. I even wear them on places like the subway, or in the street at rush hour, because I am sensitive to the noise. Silence in your brain is a very good thing.
posted by winterportage at 2:34 PM on May 28, 2014

Earplugs & white noise. But I agree that headphones are perfectly friendly in work environment.

I have an office with a door, but I work in a place where a closed door is not interpreted well.

I have to wear earplugs if I want to focus. The foam kind are pretty subtle, but that means people don't notice them and start talking in the office door before I realize they're there. And then I have to be all like, "Oops! Sorry, earplugs! What did you say?" in a smiley way while taking them out.
Sometimes the earplugs aren't enough to cancel out the chatter, so then I layer headphones over them and turn on the white noise website. That can mask a lot!

Or you can buy a separate white noise machine, the utilitarian type that therapists have. But that might annoy other people.
posted by aabbbiee at 2:36 PM on May 28, 2014

Thanks for the answers so far! Just to clarify, I'm looking for suggestions that are less about blocking the noise and more about ignoring it. Both for practicality's sake and also because I don't find earplugs/headphones super comfortable.
posted by radioamy at 2:42 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I suggest meditation and other mental focus exercises.

A small trick that might work with impromptu phone conversations, for example, is to change your own focus -- another task on your list that you have to pick up and work on instead. Depending on what work you do this might involve switching from a conscious type of activity (e.g. technical writing) to a less conscious type (data entry).

Are you anxious, stressed, or otherwise high-strung? That can affect your ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Work on dealing with that, or with you deal with that.
posted by dhartung at 2:47 PM on May 28, 2014

Sorry, I know you said no earplugs, but Flents Quiet Down Earplugs are squishy and fiber-filled, so they're much more comfortable and don't block out *nearly* as much sound as any of the foam ones (in fact, they're not rated high enough for concerts). Note: they're not the same as the "Quiet Please" nor the "Quiet Time" earplugs by them, these ones look like this (the white part is soft fibers).
posted by unknowncommand at 4:31 PM on May 28, 2014

I am also easily distracted. What sometimes helps me is to subvocalize whatever I'm reading so, in essence, my "speaking" drowns out the otherwise distracting noise.
posted by DrGail at 5:28 PM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

I also use subvocalisation if I'm trying to read. This can be harder to do if I'm engaged in an activity that isn't reading, but I've also tried keeping a sort of subvocalised running commentary on what I am doing. Working on a spreadsheet or something, for example: "copy that column over there, and now average column A to column H..." Or think about something really absorbing, or focus on my breathing, or count. Different things for different situations.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:50 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have the same problem! Honestly, I haven't found coping mechanisms beyond moving away from distracting noise, plugging one ear when I'm on the phone in a noisy place, or trying to sit in a quiet corners at cafes. Consciously drawing my attention to the task at hand also helps me increase my "interference robustness", but it does very little to drown out a loud half-conversation on the bus.
posted by zem at 6:56 PM on May 28, 2014

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