Distraction and Writing

The cost of open and shared offices.

August 9, 2017

All day long I write. Mostly, this writing is e-mails, but I write other things as well.  Reports, lecture notes, presentations, letters of recommendation, grant proposals, comments, articles, chapters, Slack updates - and yes - blog posts.

My guess is that you spend much of your time writing as well. The work of higher education is mostly about information -its creation and dissemination - much of which occurs through writing. Every time that we put sentence to screen we are trying to communicate effectively, clearly, and concisely.   We tend to discount e-mail writing as writing, but we shouldn’t.  The e-mails that we write must inform and sometimes persuade. Doing so well is difficult.

The thing is, I can’t write if I’m distracted. Writing for me requires quiet. Not only auditory quiet, but a lack of external visual stimulus. Some people can write through interruptions. Not me. I need quiet, space, and time. My ability to clearly articulate ideas, to write well, is in directly proportional to the solitude that I experience. My guess is that I’m not alone.

It is the observation that I spend most of my days writing, and my need to avoid distraction in doing so, that causes me to worry about where higher ed seems to be going with our workplace environments. At my job, I am fortunate enough to have an office with a door - but that is increasingly a rare occurrence. Every college and university that I know seems to be moving towards some form of open office and shared workplaces.  Space seems to be at a premium across postsecondary education. Scarce dollars are dedicated to activities that are mission critical - and for many in higher ed this means the end of private offices.

What does all this office sharing and open offices mean for those of us who have trouble writing when distracted? Is writing in an environment of quiet a luxury that we have no right to expect? Is it that writing without auditory and visual distraction - and with some ability to avoid constant interruption - a benefit that should only be reserved for the privileged few? Should we accept that the economics of higher education are no longer compatible with offices in which we can close the door?

What is your office situation?

Do you spend your days writing?

Are you able to write through distraction?


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