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 as important as attending a meeting but doesn’t receive the same respect. Writing is expected to fit in around the edges of everything else: emails, queries from colleagues, telephones and computers.
Trying to stay focused on any task is difficult if there are distractions. 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.
Set up a Zone of Silence
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.
The rules of the zone of silence:
- The area is used only for writing
- Turn off your phone
- Disconnect from the internet and wifi
- Only brings notes and material connected with your current project
- No talking
- Avoid leaving to complete a different task
- How to write when you don’t feel like it
- Co-authors should define their roles and responsibilities before they start writing
- The difference between a writing rule and a good idea
- Back to basics: science knowledge is gained while information is produced
- Handwriting notes and to-do lists is still a good idea
- How to build and maintain confidence as a writer
- Never label yourself a POOR writer
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