Writing and Working Spots

The other day I was talking to my sister about how I get work done, and how I used to get work done…  I suggest to clients that they think about how they got work done in college, because sometimes that really gives some clues about what the optimal spot is for them to work.

I used to go study spot-hopping. It was hard to focus on reading or intense studying for long periods, but I had a lot to do. So I’d find a spot with the right level of stuff going on and the right level of background noise, and work there for anywhere from thirty minutes to a couple of hours. When either my focus burned off or the noise level changed too much, I’d get up and go to the next spot. I was lucky at UMASS that there were tons of options; study rooms at the library, places to get lunch, coffee shops on campus, in Amherst, and in Northampton. Moving from place to place gave me a little break and a little movement. Then I could buckle down again for a bit. The University of Amsterdam was a little harder, while I was doing my Master’s, but I could alternate between the train, the dining hall, and the awesome little Philosophy Department library, which wasn’t so quiet because everyone was working in small groups trying to understand Kant, which can’t be done no matter how many translations you have, and because there was a lovely dog named Flor who hung out there.

The right level of background activity and noise: even toned conversations. Enough for it to sound like a lull in the background, but not like people competing for airspace. Occasionally something to eavesdrop on half-heartedly or half-ear-edly.

Goal: enough to occupy the whitespace in my brain, the inattention. The part that gets too busy thinking and speeds away from the task – and thought- at hand. Not so much that I can’t absorb what’s in front of me.

It often would change and become too much in one place at lunch time, and then another study lounge or what not would get quiet enough. Silent areas of the library were often too quiet The funny thing is that my sister did exactly the same thing. We both still do a version of that, using coffee shops, libraries, benches, in our "spare" child-free moments to work. How about you? What’s your working sweet spot? Does a dog make the difference?