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Apply a Noise Gate to Your Life

Apply a Noise Gate to Your Life

    Chances are you’ve heard — or rather, not heard — the effects of a noise gate, but unless you’re into audio engineering, you probably didn’t realize it. Ever been at a concert or listen to a radio broadcast where it sounds great when there’s music playing or a voice speaking, but no hiss in the pauses between? Unless the signal happens to be really clean, odds are that was a noise gate at work, removing the hiss while letting the loud parts shine through.

    While a picture is worth 1,000 words, I’m sure this audio example counts for something too (turn the volume up so you hear the hiss):

    » Noise gate demo (MP3)

    In our lives, in addition to obvious, upfront distractions, there’s often a lot of “background hiss” that doesn’t appear threatening on its own, but just like breaking down a big project into small tasks helps it seem not so intimidating, the counterproductive opposite is also true — many small interruptions can quickly overwhelm and suck your time, leaving you frustrated and unaccomplished. Quiet breaks between the madness is essential to your well-being, so it’s important to…

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    Identify the noise

    Removing the “noise floor” so there’s blissful silence between the “louder” parts of the day is understandably difficult, because what’s noise to one person is, well, music to another. Here are some common examples of noise:

    Requests that say “It’ll only take a minute or two.”

    Ever get asked for small favors like this, only to find that 5, 10, or even 15 minutes have already elapsed after you start helping?

    People who can’t be bothered to read

    It’s a safe generalization that most of us don’t peruse a website’s Terms of Service, let alone a software app’s whole manual — we access info as-needed. But being badgered by questions that someone can effectively help themselves with is bad for all involved.

    Emotional vampires

    If during quiet moments, your mind wanders and gets increasingly bothered thinking about people who’ve been unkind, you can relate.

    Intrusions that incrementally eat time

    Whether it’s unwanted advertising in the form of annoying Flash animations or an unwelcome telemarketer, many of us share this problem.

    Enjoy the silence

    Applying a noise gate may not be easy at first, but it becomes easier the more you do it — habituating yourself high volumes of excellence is far better than drowning in the hiss. Here are some of the ways I do it:

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    Batch process

    This has been highly touted by Darren Rowse of Problogger and many others, and I’ve found it to be incredibly true. Don’t do wasteful things like answer a single email, only to check your inbox moments later and repeat the cycle — devote larger chunks of time, such as half-an-hour and above, to grouped/similar tasks. Really dive in and both the quality and quantity of your output will increase… then you’ll feel peaceful afterwards.

    I’m active on a number of social networks (like Flickr and Twitter) I set aside weekend time to browse and converse on. This is a fine interval that allows me to be communally active, yet it’s not overly consuming. Plus, it’s a refreshing feeling to “let comments build up” and dive in. (I allow exceptions for spontaneous responses on a case-by-case basis.)

    Afraid some things can’t wait? The good news is, more often than you think, they can… or can be avoided altogether. Most “emergencies” are illusions because people are temporally sensitive to what’s happening now. Try an experiment in cultivating selective ignorance, then you’ll know firsthand whether this works for you.

    Document what you do

    You may not be a technical writer, but you can certainly scribe a simple Frequently Asked Questions list (FAQ) in a few minutes. If you feel bloated answering the same questions over and over, whether it’s work-related (like mine) or about your personal activities, you lose nothing from sharing your secrets. In fact, it may help you remember better.

    The most common objection to this is that it’s “dehumanizing”, that it gives you an excuse to not be personal. That’s wrong! Rather, documenting and automation frees you to be more personal for times when an already-provided answer won’t do. Simple as that.

    Remove non-contributors from your life

    Oh, harsh! But vibrantly true. If you surround yourself with positive people who take on adversity as opposed to whiners who mope and don’t change their realities, you’ll be empowered to both lift yourself up and have a supply of energy to boost others too.

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    An unfortunate lot of people passively burn and suffer because they stew about meanies who leech their time and deplete their spirits: whether it’s an Internet troll or a drama-laden “friend”, we’ve all known people like this. Just imagine how much happier you’d be if you put all that anger towards something awesome!

    I understand removing useless people — useless as in, “they contribute nothing of value to your happiness” — is harder if they live with you or are related, as opposed to anonymous jerks on the Internet. But you likely still have control over how you spend your time and who you spend it with, and minimizing their involvement by being brief and moving on is the best. Conversely…

    Celebrate people who bring usefun (useful + fun) your way

    We often call them our close friends, but they can also be prized customers who are eager to beta-test, give feedback, and help advance your work and play so both of you benefit.

    Spend the best — and many — moments of your life with people you treasure and who adore you in-kind. Instead of blippy highlights in a sea of hiss, strive for strongly-punctuated life experiences with a beautiful serenity in-between.

    Time and energy are finite, and you’ll only have the resources to lavish wonderful individuals if you don’t treat people the same. You can’t. People are different, and some are more noisy than others — it’s their choice to learn to improve, and your choice to focus now on what’s worthwhile. Hey, lead the way!

    Regularly find tools to help you

    The knowledge is at your fingertips: whether it’s Adblock Plus for smoother surfing or developing the willpower to simply say “No thank-you” to a telemarketer then hanging up, find the tools that let you have more control over how your days go by.

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    Whenever I have a problem and specifically feel a repeated process is more troublesome to do than it should be, I write it down. I review a list weekly, then go wild searching. For example, I was frustrated with juggling multiple browser tabs in Firefox, and eventually switched to vertical tabs. The sooner you solve attritive problems, the more time you’ll cumulatively save in the long run.

    I’m a fan of cheap, lightweight experiments that build on themselves, and I’m not just referring to technological tools, but psychological constructs that condition and bias you towards a life well-lived.

    Rock on!

    The biggest obstacle I’ve known to the above is letting the noise continue to permeate and invade your life, thinking you may tolerate it and “It’s not that unhealthy…” Those are poor excuses and are self-hurtful, because the noise will only grow. If you harbor such thoughts as I once did, taking the first steps today will serve as a foundation for a noise-minimized future.

    It’s unrealistic to expect to have a completely noiseless life, but like the adage goes,

    “Everyone has problems. Not everyone deals with them.”

    Each interruption, no matter how deceptively faint, is an opportunity to practice and work your way up, building a better noise gate for your life.

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    Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

    Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

    There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

    How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

    Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

    Why is multitasking a myth?

    The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

    Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

    You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

    Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

    We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

    Your brain on multi-tasking

    Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

    When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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    But I can juggle multiple tasks!

    You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

    For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

    Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

    Why multitasking is failing you

    Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

    Multitasking wastes your time.

    You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

    In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

    It makes you dumber.

    A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

    You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

    This is an emotional response.

    There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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    Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

    It’ll wear you out.

    When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

    We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

    How to stop multitasking and work productively

    Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

    In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

    Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

    1. Consciously change gears

    Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

    As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

    This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

    2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

    Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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    Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

    This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

    3. Set aside distractions

    Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

    If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

    Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

    Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

    4. Take care of yourself

    We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

    Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

    In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

    5. Take a break

    People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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    Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

    6. Make technology your ally

    Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

    Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

    The key to productivity: Focus

    Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

    Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

    If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

    How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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