Surviving in an open office environment when you love to talk

Amy 12.16.16By: Amy Boyle Collins, Vice President

When I was in second grade, my teacher told my mom that she didn’t worry about me. It was the students around me that concerned her because I never stopped talking to them.

That’s why PR people get into the business, right? That penchant for communicating with others (all the time) – can be a gift and a curse.

The curse came for me when I landed at Gambel Communications in our newsroom-style office with almost a dozen desk mates within earshot. I had my own office for the last 17 years. I had become comfortable with the focus that my own four walls afforded me.

I have tried a myriad of things to focus and stay productive at work over the last three years. I have a panel-screen by my desk that offers the illusion of being walled off. I often take to Betsie’s office when she’s out at appointments or traveling. And I live with Pandora in my earbuds.

The #GambelGirls laugh at me because I will sometimes announce, “Okay, let’s re-focus!” – and they know I mean that I need to stop talking and start working. And in go the earbuds.

Today as I retreated to our balcony when my Adele playlist failed me, I set a course to look at what others are saying about office productivity and the best ways to conquer the workday.

John Rampton, entrepreneur and investor that writes for, offers 15 Ways to Increase Productivity at Work. My favorites are: work in 90-minute intervals and set self-imposed deadlines for open-ended work. Using both of these tips, I’ve taken to the practice of scheduling an appointment with myself on my calendar to tackle big projects. I break it down into two- or three-session intervals if it’s a large project such as creating an annual plan or drafting a suite of materials on a new client initiative.

Lori Lynn Smith, a regular blogger for, says the magical answer to productivity includes something she calls “power hour.” Dedicate the first hour of your day to getting as much done as you can. I often find myself heading into the office early to get important things knocked out before anyone else arrives. I know it’s the time of day where I am most productive, so I take advantage of it.

A few years ago, I read a book called Never Check Your Email in the Morning by Oprah’s favorite organizational expert, Julie Morgenstern. The obvious advice I found was that we should avoid clearing our inbox and responding to requests first thing in the morning. Instead, our time is better spent tackling the most difficult task first, organizing our to-do list and checking in with team members.

It’s comforting to know that I’m not far off from the industry experts in what I have employed to focus and be productive.

Here are a few more tips and tricks you may want to think about:

  • Leave your desk for lunch and/or short walks
  • Drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated (it really works!)
  • Don’t keep social media platforms open on your desktop
  • Hold all phone calls (and text messages) for 30 minutes at a time
  • Leave work at work whenever you can and enjoy down time
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule

And one last piece of advice, never lose your earbuds. Now, let’s re-focus!