Managing distraction: “library rules” before 11 a.m.

The Wayne State Web department consists of ten people sitting at their desks in an open room in the middle of the marketing department, typically with the lights off. Each member of the team typically has fifteen tasks for the day and forty tasks assigned for upcoming dates. As you can imagine it can be hard to focus on the tasks at hand with people walking through the area or with even a one-on-one conversation happening at the desk next to you.

We try to manage these distractions by:

Wearing headphones – Being lost in our own music drowns out any other noise around.

Keeping the lights off – Reduces peripheral vision so we can focus on our screens and reduce the likelihood of noticing someone walk by.

Not having printers – No one in the Web group has a printer, we never have, and the rare time we do print we send it to a central printer in a different area of the department. This reduces noise and people just waiting around.

Reducing the number of phones – We only have three phones for the twelve total staff members. We do most of our support via email or Basecamp. But if someone does call, we have a single number answered by one person who can field the question and only interrupt another staff member if necessary.

“Library rules” before 11 a.m. – It’s simple: respect everyone’s time, space, productivity, just as you would in a library, before 11 a.m.

First things first


The video above, although not the most comprehensive, explains the crux of the problem. With so many tasks, projects and competing priorities it’s easy to get lost in the thick of the thin. We work diligently to not only develop personal tactics to stay productive but also an environment that focuses on completing those big or important tasks first.

Before 11 a.m. we collectively work to accomplish our most important item(s) for the day. We try to keep it to one thing, but you would be amazed how productive you are if you are not interrupted. Just try it for a week.

4 Replies to “Managing distraction: “library rules” before 11 a.m.”

  1. Love the concept, Nick. Just curious if your whole team buys-in or not? Any personal preference differences in the group that you have to manage? “I can’t work with the lights off.” OR “The ‘library’ rule is kind of paternalistic.”

    Or do you have pretty solid buy-in? Everyone likes it – that you know?

    1. Eric,
      We have most of the team buy-in, we are very democratic when it comes to decisions that involve everyone. When we started lights off we did have everyone on board but as people change some people prefer lights and they typically accomplish that by adding a lamp to their desk.

      As far as the library rules it isn’t anything that is strictly enforced, just something everyone tries to keep in mind as other work around them. For the most part the morning is much quieter in the Web office than the afternoon.

  2. I like the the “eat the frog” strategy, but I have two interconnected questions. Right now, as a professor, my frog is preparing a new course. This task will take an extended block of time, the longer the better, because taking a few steps towards completion is not an effective use of time because of the overhead costs of stopping and starting my activities on Blackboard. The second concern is all those urgent but less frogish and perhaps less important things on my to do list that have deadlines before the one for the major frog.

    Would I be correct in saying that the frog principle applies more to shorter tasks that can be accomplished rather easily once I get over my reluctance to tackle them? I’ll agree that this would be possible on many days or with a few mini-frogs other than my major frog.

    1. Bob,
      You bring up a good point. When it takes longer to start and stop these large tasks (setting up a Blackboard course) might just need to happen in larger chunks of time, perhaps a day at a time. If possible alternating a single day for the large task and the next day completely to these small tasks. It may not be ideal but it would allow for a single mind thinking for the task at hand.

Comments are closed.