Interruptions kill productivity. But background noise can slow you down in less obvious ways. For maximum impact, sound-proof your writing room.
Writing requires focus, it requires a place without distraction. Here are a few distractions to avoid:
Noise makes you tired. Just as shouting over loud music in a bar strains your voice, your brain has to work harder to filter out unwanted information.
It’s more likely that your brain will latch onto some background noise, speech or music and interrupt your flow of thoughts. While this isn’t the same as the phone ringing, it takes to refocus after each micro-interruption.
Background music taps into your creative brain leaving it with less bandwidth to come up with cool new ways to express yourself.
For more on this, check out Peopleware. It goes into great detail about the effects of noise and interruption on productivity (among other things).
Writers need to concentrate for extended periods, they need to be imaginative to come up with one good word after another and they need to keep a mental map of the document they are writing so that each word and sentence makes a coherent whole.
Here’s how I try to reduce the noise level in my writing room.
Designated writing room
I write in a study. I know that this is a great luxury but you can turn any room into a writing room by setting out your writing equipment in a conscious, deliberate way and telling yourself ‘this is where I work’. The decision itself makes it happen. It’s best to work alone in a room with a door.
Keep outsiders out
I keep my door shut when I’m working and I have a funny sign (see picture) on the outside that makes it clear that I don’t want to be interrupted when I’m working.
Stop PC interruptions
I switch off Outlook new mail pings, Twitter alerts, Skype on ‘busy’
Phone on silent
My iPhone pings, chirps and beeps constantly. Putting it on silent stops that until I’m ready to deal with it.
I use Bose headphones which cancel out a lot of outside noise. In the winter they also keep my ears warm. I’m a big fan of Bose and I use their aviation headphones when I’m flying too. For travel, I have some Shure in-ear headphones which are pretty good.
I have a custom-built Chillblast silent PC which is really good. It’s actually silent in operation. You’d be surprised how much noise a regular PC makes. I also use a Hush MediaPC which is very, very quiet but that’s in the TV room. I recommend them too.
It helps a lot but it’s expensive but even a heavy curtain can cut out noise from outside. I also try to stop people chatting in the garden outside my window when I’m working.
A friend built a sound studio in his house and sound-proofing foam etc. Isn’t horrendously expensive but I don’t use it. Instead, I lined the two interior walls of my study with shelves and books to deaden the incoming noise. A carpet or rug can help; also in the room above your writing room.
Switch stuff off
Do you need the central heating or A/C on? I have mine on a timer so it’s off during the day. That stops a lot of plumbing noises. I also use a central power control to switch off electrical items in my study. It’s surprising how much noise some power adaptors and chargers make. Ideally, I like to make sure that radios and stereos around the house are switched off too but since other people have their own lives it isn’t always possible.
Increasingly, I find a short period of zazen (sitting meditation) helpful in stopping the bubbling noise of my own mind. It doesn’t have to have any religious connotations; it’s just about letting your mind focus on the present moment and relax a little.
I use Quies ear plugs. They’re a little more expensive than the usual ones but cancel more noise. Mainly I use them when travelling but if there are builders outside or something they work well inside my headphones to create a zone of silence.
If this is helpful, please check out another article: 22 ways to stay focused on writing.