With the opening of the new office, I’ve thought a lot about encouraging focus in a physical environment. Everything from noise reduction, to layout, to peripheral distractions. So far I think it has been working well in the office during the day. At the same time, I still find myself searching for that pefectly quiet place I can call my own. A place that not only has less noise and visual distractions, but more importantly, less responsibility from the day to day requests or notifications. No matter how quiet your office, your home, or that cabin in the woods may be, you will still have a constant need to check your inbox, catch up on chat, or scan through the latest tweets. It’s nearly inescapable.
A quiet place is not only for getting work done either. It’s for reflecting, meditating, or clearing your mind to regroup. It’s where you come up with your best ideas. It’s a chance to take a breath.
For most people, their solution is night time. Right after everyone has gone home for the day, stopped working, stopped sending emails, and the Internet seems just a little more calm than it was a few hours before. This used to be my quiet place and time as well. Around 9pm I would get a second wind, regroup, and usually work on interface design, content, or architecture decisions for our products. These days, it’s very different. With two kids Natalie and I come home from work at 5:30pm and the day keeps rolling. Around 9pm we finally sit down and I’d much rather shut off my brain and not think at all. I’ve had to find a new place to focus and think.
So far I have three places where I can really think without distraction. They are not necessarily places where I can work, but places where I can get away and think. They are places that work almost every time for me as well. The first is the sauna at my gym. It’s usually completely empty and so quiet I can almost hear myself think. It’s more like medidation for me — it’s clarity. The second place is Rittenhouse Square, a park in downtown Philadelphia. Even though it is always busy, I can sit on a bench and zone out. I remember when we were trying to parse SMTP conversations in Postmark. It was a tricky problem and I couldn’t figure it out no matter how much I mapped it out on paper. I sat in the park for an hour and had a solution. And the last place is my favorite drinking establishment, Library Bar, at a nearby hotel. They have amazing drinks, it’s usually as quiet as a library, and I can just sit at a table to sketch, write, or plan with complete focus (the drinks help too). A recent result that I sketched there was our DMARC tool for Postmark.
No matter how great your office or work environment is, you always need an escape and some alone time. If you are doing creative work or need complete focus to solve hard problems, you almost certainly have a place to call your own. If not, I highly recommend finding one.
What is your quiet place?