Work in a cubicle? Fail-proof ways to concentrate

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(MoneyWatch) If you're a cubicle dweller 9-5, you know that noisy and nosy neighbors can wreak havoc on your productivity. Whether you're writing, reading or brainstorming ideas, background noise and interruptions can make everything you're doing take twice as long. And simply trying to block the noise isn't easy. "The most obvious suggestion is ear plugs, but they are frequently not effective or practical, especially if frequent phone use is necessary," says professional organizer Alice Price, founder of Organize Long Island, who works with adults with ADD/ADHD. Here are four better ways to focus, fast:

Stop visual distractions

If earbuds or noise-canceling headphones aren't an option, you should start by neutralizing visual distractions. "Build some blinders into your space to prevent you from looking up and around and also discourage people from easily interrupting you. Also, if you can turn your back and keep your head down that provides a visual cue that you are unavailable," says Julie Morgenstern, author of "Time Management From The Inside Out."  Natural blockers can help, too. "Use a plant or two to frame your cube, and create a bit of a visual obstacle," says Morgenstern.

Give a status update on your availability

It's awkward to say to someone's face "I'm too busy for you." But setting up a sign that reads "Be back soon" or "Interruptions welcome" can let people know that your door is "closed" or "open" without being rude, says Morgenstern. If a sign on your cube feels unnatural, simply tell an interrupter that you want to help them, but you'll swing by their desk when you're done with the task at hand.

Work with a white noise machine

White noise machines aren't just helpful for drowning out sound while sleeping. ADD/ADHD specialist Kathleen Nadeau, PhD recommends putting one under your desk -- and keeping it turned on all day long. This compact, lightweight version from Marpac is only $54, and allows you to adjust the volume and tone.

Turn on your iPod

If you aren't on the phone and your boss is on board, few things block sound better than good noise-canceling headphones, says Price. For maximum focus, she says to choose instrumental music so your brain can concentrate on your work, not the words accompanying your tunes.

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