who you sit next to can impact your performance, what happens when you give up multi-tasking for a week, and more

Over at QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I take a look at several interesting work-related stories in the news right now, including how the person you sit next to at work can impact your performance, what happens when you give up multi-tasking for a week, and more. You can read it here.

{ 59 comments… read them below }

  1. Amber Rose*

    I know sitting next to my coworker impacts my performance because every time she starts clipping her nails, I have to get up and leave until she’s done.

    But I suspect that’s not what you meant. =P

    1. MoinMoin*

      There are multiple people around me that do this. My cube mate resigned last week and the other big offender I always hear was on vacation, and it was just total bliss. The cube mate being gone is the big one though, I would hear the clip clip clip at least once a day. I don’t know how she had more than nubs left.
      Now, to work on the loud and weird sneezers that surround me….

  2. BRR*

    I didn’t think that was where the article was going to go to for who you sit next to. My contribution for what I’m guessing is going to turn into annoying habits of neighbors is the coworker who talks all day. She seems to be in incredible pain if she is not talking and it has to be in a loud voice (in an open office floor plan). I’ve heard her talk for an hour this morning about leather pants she bought online.

    1. B*

      THIS!!! I am much more productive, and happier, when not sitting next to someone who talks all day, complains all day, and does not pay attention when questions are answered because they would rather be gossiping.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I sit in the middle of phone support people. So headphones and music it is!

      They don’t usually bother me that much, but when all the teams are in the office, their loud personal conversations do. Not because they’re personal–because they talk from cube to cube. Loudly.

    3. AFT123*

      Yassss. I have a coworker who has been working remotely for a few weeks now and I’m so much more productive. This coworker is the type who will pester you even when you have headphones on..

    4. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Yes! My productivity (and mood) have increased dramatically since I moved from sitting next to a constant talker (and gum-chomper) to a quieter area.

    5. Lia*

      I sit next to a constant-personal-calls person. My productivity is through the roof when she isn’t here. I can only wear headphones for so long, though. :P

    6. Mallory Janis Ian*

      My co-worker is very chatty and genuinely fun to talk to, but my productivity does suffer because I can’t work and chat as well as she can. She can talk and talk and somehow, at the end of the day, she’s still very productive. I join her in chatting when I can, and try to be quiet and get some work done when I need to, but the frequent talking seems to tank my productivity worse than it does hers. She’s taking a day off tomorrow, and I’ll kind of miss her, but I’m also looking forward to uninterrupted concentration.

  3. Sami*

    As a teacher, I can tell you that who you sit next to absolutely makes a difference. Sometimes for better or for worse.

    1. Kat*

      Teachers would always sit troublemakers next to me, thinking I would rub off on them or something. Mostly they just tried to copy off my paper or flick spitballs into my hair. No one ever looked at me and said, “My, but if I just do what she does, I too will be the teacher’s pet!”

      1. esra*

        I hated that. It used to happen to me all the time too and I wish I had’ve been a sassier kid and pushed back more.

        1. Purest Green*

          Yes! Unfortunately as a kid I didn’t have the wherewithal to call other kids out on their bullshit.

        2. Isben Takes Tea*

          YES. My FAVORITE TEACHERS were the ones that did not force high and low performers together.

      2. Shannon*

        Ugh, this. I’m still upset by my teacher who sat me next to the class bully after having finally been sat next to two kids who treated me decently. It felt like I was being punished for Beau being a little hellion.

      3. Blue Anne*

        Yes! Or partnered us if the class was doing an activity in pairs. At which point they would just say “What’s the answer?” and glare at me.

    2. Blue_eyes*

      Truth. Making seating charts when you have a bunch of kids in one class who work each other up is a nightmare.

      1. Muriel Heslop*

        I stopped making seating charts and told the kids we would only have them if they made me have them. There’s one class every year like this where it’s necessary and brutal.

      2. Noah*

        Is this some new teaching thing? I don’t remember ever having seating charts in school. In elementary school once you chose a desk it was yours unless you caused a problem and the teacher moved you. In jr. high and high school you could move around everyday as you switched classes.

        1. Panda Bandit*

          My grade schools always had assigned seating. The teachers usually put us in alphabetical order. This would have been during the 80s and 90s.

    3. Muriel Heslop.*

      Another teacher and I agree. Sometimes it’s even more challenging trying to figure out who should and shouldn’t sit near ME.

  4. Seven of Nine*

    On the multi-tasking bit, I find it’s a challenge to mono-task when your job requires reviewing emails as they come in. Remember the letter with the coworker who had “email days”? Yeah, I think even having email hours might not function well in my role. I wish!

    1. AnotherAlison*

      My job is designed to multitask. It’s actually designed to multitask while I multitask.

      1. Blue_eyes*

        Me too! I’m a personal assistant so I always have a bunch of long term predictable stuff to keep working on in the background, but there are also tons of things that come up and need instant replies. Responding to my boss’s emails quickly is part of being good at my job, so I have to look whenever an email comes in. Even on days where I arrive at work knowing that I must finish tasks A and B as soon as possible, X, Y, Z and 23 will come up and take priority and I will be lucky to finish A and B by the end of the day.

      2. F.*

        Office Manager here. I’d love to try NOT multi-tasking for a day and see where it gets me. Probably fired…..

      3. Former Invoice Girl*

        This is very familiar. I often have to work on two Excel reports at a time while also checking e-mails and replying to request with a short lead time. I usually enjoy it, though, but it does get overwhelming, especially when something that requires a bit more concentration comes in.

        But no-one can top my team leader, who can do conference calls (not just listening in but contributing actively and meaningfully) while writing instructions and answering e-mails. Mind-boggling.

    2. techfool*

      I turned off my email alerts. After the initial run-through first thing in the morning, I check emails when I’ m between tasks. If it’s that urgent they can call me. I find if I’m on Task A it’s better for me to finish Task A while I am focused on it, than to park it for Task B and then return to it. It’s quicker. Also, bunch similar tasks together – I learned that from working in a kitchen.
      FWIW I’m a legal secretary to eight lawyers in a top AmLaw firm.

    3. Regina 2*

      I think the harder part is re-training colleagues who are accustomed to you jumping on their every whim (which is what I do). I have zero backbone and no ability to draw boundaries. I’d love to, but I’ve already made a name for myself as a say-yes-to-all-requests woman, and don’t have a manager who’d support me in changing my ways. How would you even start to get people to respect you?

      1. techfool*

        I said yes to everything for a year. Now that I have a solid reputation for getting things done and not making mistakes I’ve started to push back. Start small, “I can do it in about half an hour after [insert big important task]” or “sure, when do you need it by?”
        It’s not about saying no, it’s about maintaining your quality of work.

        1. Former Invoice Girl*

          I do that, too. I really like to help out and want to be a good coworker, but sometimes there are too many things on top of each other. Asking “is it okay with you if I do it in about ten or fifteen minutes?” or “how urgent is it? Does it need to be prioritized?” helps a lot.

    4. AliceBD*

      I’m in charge of social media, so I can’t just block off hours and work steadily on one thing. I have to interrupt myself fairly frequently to check there’s not any questions I need to take care of/problem I need to deal with/spam to delete/etc.

  5. nonegiven*

    My son’s first grade class, we went the week before to see the classroom. They had assigned seating. I told the teacher, you’ve got him next to his best friend and arms length from his girlfriend, I give it a week.

      1. Karo*

        I had a “boyfriend” in kindergarten. Basically just a kid I thought was pretty, and he thought I was pretty too. So we got married on the playground.

  6. Anxa*

    I struggle with this so much.

    Sitting in my mini office gives me privacy, but it’s freezing and I’m stuck with finicky laptops. There’s a room full of computers where it’s slightly less freezing, but the people in that department don’t do much work, eat loudly at the computers, and sing or hum all day. So it’s distracting, plus it zaps some of my motivation to be productive.

  7. Young'n*

    Do people have control over where they sit? I have always had assigned seating in the office.

    1. UnCivilServant*

      An artfully worded complaint to a reasonable manager can get you moved, but you have to provide enough of a solution to imply the unspoken “…and I’ll shut up about it afterwards.”

    2. Clever Name*

      I asked to be moved to another office because a coworker’s 3rd hand smoke was bothering me, and I’ve volunteered to move again and I’m asking that I not be seated with my current officemate (she’s an oversharer with mental health issues, and it’s negatively impacting my own mental health). We’ll see what happens.

    3. Cath in Canada*

      Unfortunately, no control in my office. We have one of those weird buildings with very variable temperatures (we call them microclimates), and we have me (hates being too hot) sitting in one of the warmest parts of the office and a colleague who hates being too cold sitting in one of the coldest! I’m running a fan at my desk right now, and she has her space heater on. We’ve asked to swap, but nope.

  8. Menacia*

    I know this is true, we hired someone new about a year ago, and he sat near and became friendly with the guy who sat in the cubicle behind him. Even though I trained him, new guy picked up all the (bad) habits of (now former) coworker. Coworker was fired in May, and I’m seeing things start to turn around with new(ish) guy, they still aren’t where they need to be, but I’m hopeful.

  9. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

    I thought the seating thing was going to be different too. Like if you’re new to the team/company and they sit you miles away from anyone that does anything remotely close to your job, that could impact your performance in other ways. Especially when no one ever comes to check on you and you’re not told who to go to for help.

  10. Chaordic One*

    Sometimes, it is not just who you sit next to, but where you sit. Unless you are the receptionist, never sit by the door.

    It is so distracting when you’re trying to get something done and in walks someone looking for someone else and they interrupt you. If you’re lucky the person is at their desk and you can point to them and then get back to work. But if they’re not, no, I don’t know where they are, no, I don’t know when they’ll be back and no, I can’t take a message for them. You can leave them a note, a voicemail, or an email.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I worked in an office where three departments shared a suite, with the three department heads having individual private offices and the three assistants sharing the open work area. When we were moving in, I told my boss to choose the office farthest from the door to the suite, because each assistant’s desk was right outside the corresponding boss’s door, and I didn’t want to end up as the de facto receptionist for our suite.

  11. stevenz*

    #1. Some multi-tasking comes naturally or is necessary. Some. for example, when I’m cooking I will often stop to go talk to the cat, or put away the ironing if it’s irritating me, or look up a recipe for something I just thought about. But it is true that concentrating on one task and seeing it through is way more efficient; the problem is achieving that level of concentration.

    #2. My biggest problem is being around loud people. It doesn’t matter whether they’re talking about leather pants, highway design, or string theory. Just keep it quiet or go into a conference room.

    #3. Taking work home can mean different things. I rarely go home dwelling on whether I did a good job on that report, or did I give the right advice to that organisation. What I take home is the emotional stuff, like a nasty comment from the boss, or the latest dehumanising office policy. Those things get into my head and demand attention. They basically never go away. I wish I could control that.

    1. Polka Dot Bird*

      The emotional stuff is hard but there are techniques that help! Ask in the next open thread, I bet you’ll get a lot. It’s also a good topic for some short term therapy.

      For me: I acknowledge the thought and the feelings, then I try to either shift my focus to something I like better, or think about times when things were bad but I got through them. Decompression rituals from work also help.

  12. saro*

    The multi-tasking piece was quite interesting. I don’t want to believe it’s true but I think it is true for me that I can’t multi-task (unless it’s listening to a podcast while driving/doing dishes). I certainly can’t do a conference call while I read something. I recently did the week of ‘Infomagical’ and the first day was no multi-tasking. It was really helpful for me and a little embarrassing in that I multi-task often when I am with my toddler. I really don’t want to him to remember that I am on my phone when I should be paying attention to him.

  13. VintageLydia*

    I’m slowly coming to the realization that I suck at multitasking. Some of it is unavoidable (two littles running around means I always must have at least an ear, and ideally and eye, on them at all times) but I probably should stop trying to read the internet while I eat my meals (I say, as I comment on this blog over dinner…) because inevitably I try to read the ENTIRE internet.

  14. Willow Sunstar*

    I have a coworker who I think has mental issues or something. When we were forced to sit together, he would do weird things like comment on my normal breathing patterns (I had to literally ask him to stop), comment repeatedly on the company letting my jacket over my chair like it was a strange compliment (a perfectly normal thing to do in the upper Midwest, given that we have only a few months out of the year where people don’t wear them), comment repeatedly on perfectly normal eating habits (and then bring odoriferous things to work himself), and stand up and look down at me repeatedly while I was working (I was forced to go to the boss to get that to stop, and I dress very conservatively and am a middle-aged woman…he is in his 20’s). And people wonder why I don’t like him!

    The weird stuff stopped when we changed buildings and no longer sit together, but this guy is still the office screw-up. I have an interview finally after 2 years for a job in another dept.

Comments are closed.