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Desk Escapes: The Quest for Quiet

Desk Escapes: The Quest for Quiet
    A sign like this at your desk just doesn't cut it.

    While distractions come at us every day, the moments of silence get fewer and fewer. Noise is everywhere, while quiet is almost nowhere. Fittingly, quiet moments have gotten really quiet in promoting themselves, while the noisiest places seem to blast their locations out louder than ever.

    If there’s one thing you most certainly need when you’re trying to get stuff done, it’s quiet. And since there’s so little room for quiet in the world these days (or so it seems, with 24 hour news cycles and a firehose of information optimized for anytime access known as the Internet), it’s no wonder that productivity can slow to a crawl.

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    There are several ways to take back those moments of quiet – some can be done from the realtive comfort of your desk, while others require an escape from the everyday. You may only need to step back from the barrage of noise for a moment to see marked improvement in your productivity or you may need to remove yourself from the environment altogether.

    But what if you need some quiet while working? Here are three ways that can get you closer to the sound of silence – and much closer to getting what you want to get done…done.

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    Use Headphones

    I used to work with a colleague who placed headphones on his ears for a great deal of the day, especially when he needed to focus. But he never played any music in them. He put them on his head to get the quiet he needed (and craved) and unless you knew his work habits, you assumed he was listening to music all the while. It was a clever tactic and it kept external noise – and people – at bay.

    Another strategy would be to actually play music through the headphones. Music can be a great motivator for some, so using it to keep you on track and singularly focused is a great way to get the quiet you need and deserve. Classical music or soft jazz can be a form of “quiet” for people, as it keeps distractions away. Sometimes quiet is just less noise. Headphones gives you the chance to get as little noise – and as much quiet – as you want.

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    Use the Door

    If you’ve got one, use it when you feel the need. A closed door is the universal sign of “don’t disturb me”, and you can further that meaning by explaining to your co-workers that when your door is shut that they shouldn’t even bother knocking.

    Now…if you keep your door closed much of the workday, then this tactic won’t exactly cut it. Pulling off this kind of escape from noise usually requires you to have an “open door policy” for much of the time. It’s hard to tell your colleagues to refrain from knocking on your door when you have it shut so often. You may want to try opening your door more often in this case – you may find that you can get work done with an open door that doesn’t require a lack of noise. And when you close your door you (and your colleagues) will know that it’s time for you to get down to some really focused work.

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    Kill Alerts

    Turn off every single notification you’ve got. Mute the phone. Turn off the visual notifications. Silence your computer. Don’t let anything detract you from the quiet atmosphere you’ve created. Get rid of the audible clutter (removing the visual clutter isn’t a bad idea, either) and you’ll find that the noise you’ve got in your workday may be bearable going forward. Bearable enough that it seems quiet by comparison.

    How do you grab a much-needed break from the noise while at your desk? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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