Do Quiet Work Time And Space Make Everyone More Productive?


“How can you concentrate with that music blaring?”

“You can’t study in front of the TV!”

“Your child needs a quiet place with no distractions in which to do their homework.”

We have all heard this sort of statement at one time or another.  In fact, we may well have made that type of comment ourselves!  They sound perfectly reasonable, but are they really correct?

When I was in high school I routinely practiced clarinet in front of the TV.  My mother would ask about it but didn’t make me stop.  I knew I had a good practice when I couldn’t tell you what was happening on the shows.  If I was really in the groove and working well I was unaware of the TV.  On days that went less well it provided a comforting background noise.  I still frequently do my work with the TV or some other sound on.  Many days when I have my preparation time at work I go to the staff room where there are other people coming and going in order to get work done.

There are times when distractions don’t work for me.  Distractions are definitely not good for doing timed Sudoku puzzles on the computer, nor for concentrated reading of theological texts or Bible passages for instance.

A quiet space is one of the suggested accommodations to make for students in class who are struggling to keep up.  Do you remember the isolation study carols we used to have in libraries and some classrooms?   I often have kids who go down to a quiet room when it is time to take a test rather than to be in a room full of interesting people who may distract them.  Kids with ADD and ADHD often need help with focus.  On the other hand, an extended period of silent time may be torture for a child with ADHD and some people do their best thinking when they are able to throw ideas back and forth with someone else.

I think that once we determine if we are a person who needs quiet or needs noise or distraction we need to take it into account when choosing a career path.  I could not work in a silent office environment.  Libraries bother me and I am very uncomfortable when I have to go into my insurance company’s offices.  The hardest time of the semester for me is when my students are writing their exams as I am not allowed to talk to them for two hours.  There are many, however, for whom the constant actions of others in the class and productive classroom noise would cause overload.

There is no one answer for all people.  The world needs folks who can stand to work in those quiet locations just as it needs those who get their energy from activity and interaction with other people.

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