The zone of silence: reducing distraction in the writing workplace

Written by Dr Marina Hurley

A meeting is a sacred workplace activity where people are given a quiet space to sit and a table to write on, and are shielded from interruptions or disturbances. You wouldn’t expect someone to randomly walk into a meeting without warning, cup of coffee in hand, and strike up a conversation about how bad the traffic was that morning. Yet these types of disturbances naturally happen when trying to write at your desk. Writing is every bit as important as the meeting but doesn’t receive the same respect. It is expected to fit in around the edges of everything else: emails, queries from colleagues, telephones and computers.

Trying to stay focused on anyrussia-95311_1920 task is difficult if there are distractions. Distractions are not your friend. Distractions let the procrastination monster walk right in the front door and kick you out of your chair. Yet many people work in an open office: a shared workspace with no doors and often no walls. If you don’t have a door to close, it’s easier to get interrupted, easier to hear your neighbour‘s conversation and easier to hear incidental noises. Common ways of avoiding distraction are to put headphones on and listen to music (or pretend to), take your work home, or start early or leave late.

A straightforward and inexpensive tactic is to create The Zone of Silence in your workplace. The Zone of Silence is simply an empty desk close to a powerpoint with a booking sheet stuck to the wall so everyone can see who is using it.

rest-413103_1920The rules of The Zone of Silence are:

  1. The area is used only for writing.
  2. No phone or internet can be used, including email or google.
  3. The writer only brings notes and material connected with their current project.
  4. No talking.
  5. No noise.

Active use of The Zone of Silence may raise the profile of writing as an activity that requires dedicated space and adequate periods of time if it is to be completed effectively. If The Zone of Silence is taken seriously, there is an excellent chance that writing productivity can be improved.

© Marina Hurley 2016

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