After reading Deep Work, a compelling case for the power and necessity of focus toward doing our best work, I began to realize just how distracting the modern office—especially the open-plan ones—can be. So I decided to experiment with working from somewhere else. I began searching for quiet, public spaces in the city and was surprised and delighted to discover these gems.
The Holliday Park Nature Center
Holliday Park is a treasure: if you ever want escape to the woods without leaving the city, it’s the perfect place. The Park has several charming hiking trails along the White River and adjacent gorges. I like to park at the Blickman Education Trail off Meridian just north of the White River and hike into Holliday Park from the east.
The Nature Center pictured above is laid out around a bird sanctuary (which the local chipmunks and turtles take advantage of as well). With ample, comfortable seating and an onobstructed view of the birds, the main viewing area is a wonderful place to work. If the chipmunks playing becomes too distracting, an adjacent room holds the Nature Library with a view of the surrounding woods. I find it’s usually unoccupied, and often stow my headphones to enjoy the sounds of the birds outside.
Amenities include restrooms and water fountains, though Wi-Fi is notably (some might say thankfully) lacking, so be prepared to tether or let your coworkers know you’ll be off the grid.
The Irwin Library at Butler University
Built in 1963, Butler University’s main Irwin Library is a beautiful example of mid-century modern architecture both inside and out. The first thing you notice upon entering is the central atrium and fountain around which the stacks and study spaces rise. I loved exploring the library, which has a diverse array of reading and work spaces scattered throughout. My favorite was the desks and comfortable chairs on the top floor with a view of the campus. And the carrels are perfect when you want to focus solely on your work.
Amenities include restrooms, water fountains, Wi-Fi, and vending machines, as well as the restaurants and shops you’d expect from a college campus within walking distance.
The Visitors’ Pavillion at the IMA
Nestled deep in the woods of the IMA’s 100 Acres sculpture park, the Ruth Lilly Visitor’s Pavillion is an incredibly cool building. With floor-to-ceiling glass windows and skylights behind a sculpted wooden ceiling, the main room fills with natural light filtered through the forest canopy above. Stow your headphones if you like—with bird feeders outside, you can hear birdsong among the other sounds of the woods.
Delightfully isolated, it can be hard to find. Whether coming from the museum itself or (my preferred way on bike) the Central Canal Towpath, enter the 100 Acres across from an orange footbridge and follow signs through the woods. (If driving, the 100 Acres has its own parking lot off 38th street.) The 100 Acres are full of art and wonderful to explore if you need a break from work or someplace to eat a bag lunch.
Amenities include restrooms and Wi-Fi, and the museum itself (a walk across the bridge) offers water fountains and a café. My only disappointment was the desk chairs which, like most modern concept chairs, are as uncomfortable as they are cool, so be sure to get up and walk around from time to time. However, there are comfy leather chairs too if you don’t mind your laptop living up to its name. One word of advice: perhaps avoid sitting directly across from the entrance. As I was the only one there, visitors often assumed I was on staff and walked up to ask me questions, and I didn’t know enough to be helpful!
The Central Library
The Indianapolis Public Library System has 24 branches throughout the city, all of which are great places to work (I’m especially fond of the charming Spades Park Branch). But by far the largest and most impressive is the Central Library. Designed for reading, after all, the Central Library has a wealth of distinctive, quiet places to focus, from carrels to ball chairs. I particularly enjoy the desks along the windows (pictured above). On the top floor especially, they’re isolated and provide gorgeous views of the city downtown.
Amenities include restrooms, water fountains, Wi-Fi, a café, print/scan/copy services, and of course if you need a good book, they’ve got you covered. Public libraries are the best—please support them!
The University Library at IUPUI
IUPUI’s main University Library has views of the campus along the canal below. It’s busy, but large enough that you shouldn’t have trouble finding a quiet place to yourself. There are carrels for isolated focus, as well as more public study areas if you want to to be surrounded by others hard at work too. If you prefer silence, the third floor is markes as a quiet floor with conversation discouraged. And the top floor has some lovely views of downtown.
Amenities include Wi-Fi, restrooms, water fountains, and vending machines, and you can easily find a meal within walking distance on campus.
The Law Library at IUPUI
While much smaller than the main University Library, the Ruth Lilly Law Library at IUPUI’s McKinney School of Law has become one of my favorite places to work. Surrounded by the bound artifacts of centuries of legal scholarship (not to mention law students hard-at-work), I find the Law Library especially encouraging of deep focus and attention. The second floor (a quiet floor, with conversation discouraged) is home to a gorgeous reading room (pictured above) with wooden tables and shelves, natural light, and views of downtown. The next floor up offers tables and carrels for a more isolated work environment.
Amenities include restrooms, Wi-Fi, a cafeteria, and an outdoor seating area that’s great for eating a bag lunch on a nice day.
If your team supports it, I can’t strongly enough recommend getting out of the office to work for a day now and then. Indianapolis offers a wealth of free, public options for working by yourself, or bring your team along! And if you don’t live in Indy, consider the public libraries and parks in your city, as well as the fact that most public (and many private) universities open their library doors to the general public during the day.
Since I live on the North Side and work Downtown, I know the spots I’ve focused on are skewed toward those parts of the city. Do you have any favorite spots I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below!