Quiet Zones

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog my belief that this culture of interruption we live in – an environment where we’re expected to drop everything when a phone call comes in, or attend to one panic stricken email after another – is to our detriment. We have, as I sagely put it in this post, gone from having deep attention spans to wide ones.

A lot of my observations of this dysfunction go back to my days working in office situations. In such places the modus operandi is to have pointless meetings that eat into everyone’s time and prevent them from accomplishing what they really need to. This is done to create the appearance of functionality. It never matters whether the people in the room really have the time or brainpower to contribute meaningful ideas. (I was always baffled by the practice of scheduling important meetings right after lunch when everyone is brain dead.)

Additionally, the corporate world seems to be driven by a practice of rushing from one disaster to the next. You’re working on one project deadline until a call or email comes in telling you to switch to an even more urgent deadline, until the next call, wash, rinse, repeat etc.

Frankly, I’ve never expected that the corporate world would change its ways on these matters. But this blog post on the topic indicates that in some quarters these issues are being addressed.

In a recent article, Technology: Finding Our Way Back from the Flatness, I addressed the issue of how the internet and other technology keeps us on insanely high alert, ultimately producing an effect where we attend to everything and we attend to nothing (deeply).

It is my theory that this high-alert state is producing a fatigue that’s detrimental not only to our psyches and relationships, but also to the quality of our professional output.

Sullivan and Thompson take the physiological issue a step further and declare that the alert-driven chemical hits to our brain may be producing actual addiction that keeps us in a negative cycle of interruption, costing the U.S. a cool $588 billion per year in productivity losses. To bring that down to a more personal level, when you let yourself get carried away by the high-alert cycle and give in to its constant interruptions, you lose 10 IQ points in each interruption moment (“the equivalent of not sleeping for thirty-six hours—or double the impact of smoking marijuana”), and it takes you about twenty-five minutes to fully return to your original project.

Some large companies like Intel have begun to fight this trend with Quiet Zones aimed at providing a more restful work environment, to increase productivity and literally cut their losses. The Quiet Zones are four-hour spans of time without meetings or technological connectivity.

I can only presume that it was my blog posts on this subject that led to the creation of these Quiet Zones.

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