The politely muted clicking of our keyboards was underscored by the hum of the traffic below and a sudden cool breeze refreshed my resolve to finish my paragraph before heading inside for a bathroom break. I was in the zone.
Finally, I put my laptop aside and got up to relieve myself. I glanced at Ann. “I’m gonna pee and get a coffee. You want anything?” Nope. She was good. I took my little coffee and restroom break and went back outside into the warm New York air. Ann was still diligently working to shift her furrowed brow to the words on her screen. I instantly wanted to join the race. If she was working so hard, I wanted to as well.
Writing in New York City can often be a lonely endeavor. And, as a person who tends to enjoy the comforts of my home, my sweatpants, and my cats, I can spend entire days (ahem, weeks) in one room — happily alone. This week, though, I stumbled upon something that helped me get, for a lack of a better phrase, pumped up about really focusing on my writing. I added a friend to my creation equation.
I wouldn’t have thought that working next to someone else in New York would be anything other than distracting. I usually write alone. I put in my noise-canceling headphones, listen to 548 Hz music, snuggle under a blanket, and plunk away at my computer. However, the addition of Ann to the writing equation was both refreshing and inspiring.
We all know that sometimes other people can be mega-distracting. Particularly in New York. And particularly for tasks like writing. However, after I noticed my increased focus when my friend joined me to work in my backyard, I did a little research on how others affect our focus at work. It turns out, the people near us can inspire us to be more focused and productive.
In a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, they analyzed two years’ worth of data on more than 2,000 employees to determine if workers’ productivity and work quality was altered by their human environment. It was.
“We saw that neighbors have a significant impact on an employee’s performance,” said Jason Corsel and Dylan Minor, “Replacing an average performer with one who is twice as productive results in his or her neighboring workers increasing their own productivity by about 10%, on average.”
I looked over at Ann. Yep. She is one of the most hard-working women in New York City. No wonder I was flying through tasks like Tom Cruise in the new Top Gun movie. First, a little back story. Ann is the name we will call my business partner. She had come over to my house because we had a number of sales calls and some banking to do. During a half-hour between appointments, we decided to work quietly on our own things. But together.
I’m a competitive person, so her focus on her work kept me from taking breaks to scroll Instagram, grabbing a snack, or even chatting. It felt like we were racing side by side to our individual finish lines and the momentum was exhilarating. About three minutes before our next call, I reminded her that we needed to finish working soon. We wrapped up and logged on to Zoom a little more productive because of each other.
Finding the right writing partner
One other thing the HBR study found was that the qualities of the workers placed next to each other was important. For instance, two workers placed together who were both exceptional at maintaining a high quality of work didn’t necessarily boost each other’s quality. The same went for productivity.
However, when a worker who excelled in quality was paired with a worker who excelled in productivity, the output magic ensued. This totally makes sense. We are inspired by others who have the traits we don’t.
In my case, I am obsessed with productivity. The more things I get done, the better (sometimes whether they’re quality or not). Ann, on the other hand, is a read-the-directions-two-times kind of person. She is meticulous and would rather do one thing well than fifteen things shoddily. After reading the Harvard Business Review study, I realized that I had inadvertently happened upon the perfect work partner for writing in New York. My knowledge of the meticulous work of my buddy made me more conscious of the quality of mine.
As I began to reflect on what was going right in our work session, I realized that there are many things that must be present in a symbiotic coworking situation. And particularly with writing, maintaining focus is imperative — the delicacy of focus can easily be shattered by, well, practically anything and anyone at any time.
If you’re considering giving writing near another person a try, in New York or anywhere else in the world, here are some great attributes to look for in the perfect person to enhance your experience:
- As detailed in the study, try to find someone who has different qualities than you. Maybe they’re a fantastic wordsmith or they can crank out 1,000 words in an hour. Whether you actually read their work or not, the simple knowledge of their awesomeness in these realms next to you will improve your work.
- Positivity is key. Many of us in New York pick up on other people’s emotions, so it’s important to find someone who both encourages your work and provides a supportive atmosphere for creativity.
- People do weird things. It might just be me, but I’m super annoyed by other humans very easily. If you happen to have this issue as well, you will want to find a working partner who doesn’t chew loudly, type aggressively, crack their knuckles every five minutes, or do any other thing that might make your skin crawl.
- Chatty Cathys should not apply. The best writing buddies are those who can work silently and independently. If someone needs to ask you for another word for “annoying” every five minutes, it’s both unproductive and annoyingly irritating.
Even though I stumbled upon a great person with which to write, I have definitely spent time trying to write with those in New York who are not conducive to productivity. Finding the right personality for your writing session is imperative. And when you do, it’s golden.
I understand that you might believe that you’re a lone ranger on the wide plains of the writing landscape. I thought I was as well. It wasn’t until I accidentally created a writing session in the company of another person that I found it helped me focus just a little bit more.
So, if you happen to be interested in experimenting with the way you create your work, I encourage you to invite a friend or acquaintance to join you. You never know. They just might make you more productive and focused.