When I was in college, there were a few choices for study locations. There were libraries with total silence and beautiful shelves of books and large wooden tables. There were libraries with total silence and 70s-style carrels. (Ugh.) There were nooks within student centers, tables in cafes, libraries that no one really knew about because they were hidden in the Physics Building. You could claim studying but actually socialize and no one would notice. You could steal a grad student’s desk and hope they didn’t kick you out before you got through your reading. You could fall asleep on a dorm-style couch and totally miss your final.
My favorite place to work was the first floor of one particular library, right near the entrance. It had a good, classic library feel–dark wood, tall ceilings, excellent lighting. There was a small square of chairs that were cozy enough to make you comfortable but not too cozy to make you fall asleep. There was always a fair amount of traffic, and it was right next to the library cafe–perfect for coffee/tea addicts like me. I would take my discman (yes, I’m that old) and put on a good study mix and rock out with an art history flashcards or astronomy notes. I liked being surrounded by activity but a little bit separate from it. Even now, I don’t like being in total quiet to work. I prefer to go to a coffee shop or library to get work done.
“The study adds to research suggesting that small doses of distraction — including hard-to-read fonts — prompt the mind to work at a more abstract level, which is also a more creative level….The effect of noise is inverted-U-shaped, this study suggested: There’s a sweet spot between silence and din.”
My work habits are totally in line with this study. If I’m at a coffee shop, I’m energized by the activity but am able to zone out much of the actual noise. Plus, I like the social pressure of working around other people. Even if no one notices that I’m actually on Facebook, I feel more pressure to have my Word document open in front of me. I need to look like a real writer! At home, no one notices if I don’t look like a real writer. (Plus, at home it’s easy to segue from my desk into a nap.)
Do you tend to work best with a little distraction, or do you prefer total isolation to get your creativity going?