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Apply a Noise Gate to Your Life

Apply a Noise Gate to Your Life
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    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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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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