Working environments

Thinking Den

By Judy Robertson


Sometimes, you just need a bit of time and space to yourself to focus on something. Researchers, when reflecting on their practice, often refer to some means of focusing the mind and there are many ways to achieve this, depending on your own personal preferences and situation.

This recipe encourages you to make space for yourself by getting together with others to create a private ‘thinking den’ for just such a necessary, convergent thinking place.



  • An overstuffed building
  • Some imagination
  • A good wireless network
  • Mobile office (laptop/tablet, pen, paper, book)
  • A small space which is currently un(der)used


  1. Find a den – You could set up a quiet space for your team members to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy office.  For focused productivity, quiet spaces with no distractions can be beneficial.  The space needn’t be big: a cosy den in a converted cleaning cupboard might be all you need, but do get rid of the mops first as comfort is a priority. The lighting should be good, and there should be a power socket for plugging in personal devices.
  2. Enable customisation – The users of this space are likely to be transitory but they may make it their own for the short time they are there. Personalise your space by bringing your own items for inspiration (see Mobile thinking shrine).
  3. Shut off external distractions – The whole point of the thinking pod is you’re there to accomplish one focused task. Your thinking cannot be interrupted by colleagues. The phone cannot shatter your peace of mind. Email and social media get switched off at the door.
  4. Respect the den – The den will work only if the people using it agree and respect some ground rules. For example, there should be a sign on the door indicating whether the den is occupied: if it is, tiptoe away quietly. Another could be not to hog the den – perhaps allow people to book it for a couple of hours at a time.

Notes on ingredients

The den does not have to be a physically isolated space – partial isolation can work too (but remember to respect the den).

Cook’s tips

There are other ways to develop a personal thinking space – some of these don’t require a physical space. Use Just describe to work out what you have, then test a few methods to see what works for you.

Sometimes, all you need are earphones.


Check with the health and safety people before you get too carried away. Sometimes what looks like dead space is required for a fire exit.

Be careful of a booking system – it can become tyrannical.  As Émile Durkheim said, “When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.”

BITE: Recipes for Remarkable Research is available in paperback, hardback and as Open Access from:

Sense Publishers: Paperback | Hardcover | Free Open Access
Amazon: Paperback | Hardcover
Barnes & Noble: Paperback | Hardcover

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