Silence Would Be An Interruption Here

June 3, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Posted in Attention Management, Audio, Information Work, interruption science | Leave a comment

I’m writing this blog post from a nice Japanese tea house near my home office.  While it’s nice, the real reason I’m working here has to do with the truck-mounted jackhammer tearing up the alley right outside my window.  The noise was shaking things on my office bookshelves.  Even putting on headphones didn’t help as my feet kept picking up pounding vibrations. 

Alley work sm

There is a lot written about the impact of interruptions in the workplace and their cost on productivity.  I have written that much of what is lumped into “interruptions” is really a set of different problems and solutions better known as distractions and social interactions.  Still, today’s experience has emphasized that attention can be difficult to focus (and productivity lost) for other reasons as well.  The jackhammer and bulldozer don’t really count as interruptions.  Indeed, the noise was quite constant for hours.  It’s hard to lose focus when you never have it in the first place!  I simply had a noisy environment that made it difficult to concentrate.  No amount of focus on keeping out interruptions would have helped.  The only solution was my Ceylon tea and scone haven.

I remember a situation when I was a management consultant where I worked for a few months on one floor of an office building where it was so quiet people had to whisper on the phone.  I then had occasion to visit a consultant working in a department on another floor and was shocked at the cacophony he worked in.  Same basic roles, same cube layout, but it was all noisy from loud conversations, hustling and bustling, and difficult to concentrate.  It seemed to be just a cultural difference in terms of expectations and etiquette between the departments.  A new employee sinking into their cube for the first time would naturally assume a conversational volume in line with those around him. Maybe some people would prefer one or the other?  I was happy to retreat back to my quiet cube to work.  And put on my headphones.

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