The Silent Room

flowerI get asked over and over again by people how I am able to write so much material for The Simple Dollar while also working a regular job, managing a family, and keeping up with other interests.

I usually point to a lot of things that I do:

I practice Getting Things Done almost fanatically and I process my inbox twice a day – in the morning and in the evening.

I keep a “hipster PDA” (basically a very simplified organizer made out of index cards) and an idea notebook on me at all times, and use them frequently.

I sleep somewhat irregular hours, often getting up in the middle of the night for a spell or getting up very early in the morning for the sole purpose of writing.

I write as much in advance as I can so that when inevitable things come up, I can handle them with ease.

Even with all that, though, there’s one big thing that really overshadows the rest of it: I have a “silent room” where I go, close the door, and kick things into gear.

The Silent Room Idea
A “silent room” refers to a place with minimal interruptions where you can just focus on getting the stuff done that you need to get done. It can be an office, it can be a wood shop, it can even be a briefcase that you take to the library.

The big key is silence – actually, just a total minimization of interruptions. Turn off your cell phone, take your real phone off the hook, close your email program, close the door, and you’re getting close. Eliminate entertainments, block websites that might distract you, and you’re getting very close.

In the end, location really doesn’t matter too much, as long as you’re not able to be distracted from the task at hand.

My Silent Room
My “silent room” was once my office at home, but it is now slowly migrating to being my laptop carrying case with lots of pockets in it. It usually holds a file folder that is my GTD “inbox,” two or three books, my laptop, and any materials I might need for projects.

At home, my silent room is my office. I’ll go in there, shut the door, and get going on things. I’ll usually turn on some ambient music on the small stereo and get cracking.

On the road, I can usually do things wherever I need to be. For example, there is a coffee shop about twenty minutes from home that I regularly meet people at. I often make that my “silent room” – I take over a table in the back corner, plug in my iPod, and get to work.

My Secret Weapon For Making Any Room A Silent Room
One of the biggest keys for making the idea of a “silent room” work, particularly if you’re in a busy environment or only have limited periods to make it work is to get in the right mindset quickly. Without that ability, it doesn’t work.

Here’s what I do to get “in the zone” (or close to it) in about fifteen seconds, no matter where I’m at.

First, I close my eyes and completely block out the light.

Next, I breathe in and out very deeply and slowly about five times. Each breath takes about two to three seconds, all told.

I then open my eyes and turn on some ambient music. I want music that helps me to focus – the opposite of distracting. So, even though I enjoy Radiohead and other groups, I usually head for Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports. I listen to it in a loop, mixing in a few other of Eno’s ambient albums, and I find that no matter where I’m at, I can get in the appropriate mindset to write.

Making Your Own Silent Room
The key to making your own silent room isn’t following a recipe. It’s a matter of finding where you’re comfortable and thinking well and then eliminating potential distractions from that place.

Let’s say, for example, that you often do great thinking at a coffee shop. Make a portable “silent room” and take it there – turn off your cell phone, turn on your headphones to some supporting music, and dive in.

I do recommend doing a brief meditative exercise right as you start, something that takes less than a minute and clears your mind of the other chaos. For me, it’s closing my eyes and breathing deep. For others, it could be stretching or walking around or drinking some ice-cold water. There are a lot of good quick meditation activities out there – try some and find one that fits you.

What’s The Benefit?
More than any of my other productivity systems, the idea of a silent room makes my side business possible, particularly The Simple Dollar. I need to be able to shut out the world for short periods (half an hour to an hour) and turn it on quickly. Having a “silent room” makes this possible for me.

I don’t just use the technique to write, however. I use the same technique when assembling grocery lists, processing my to-dos, and so on. These tasks get done much faster when I can deeply focus on them and thus I am left with more uninterrupted quality time to spend with my wife and children, which is the really valuable part of my day.

So, not only does it make me more productive and able to carry on more tasks, it also helps me to find time that I can devote to my family, which is really important to me.

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