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Why Noise is Better Than Quiet

Why Noise is Better Than Quiet
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    The sound of silence. It’s what many of us yearn for when working. We try to get away from all of the noise and distractions of our surroundings and get to a place – whether natural or virtual – to achieve that quiet space we long for.

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    But that’s not necessarily the best thing for you to do.

    I’m not suggesting that you attempt to do your work in a noisy coffee shop or while your co-worker is playing loud music, but what I am suggesting is that you learn to work with noise rather than try to get away from it. After all, noise can be your best friend if you let it.

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    Why Noise is Better Than Quiet

    The biggest problem with quiet is not so much that it is counter-productive to look for it (as in, it takes a lot of time just to find it), but that it can serve to be counter-productive once you do discover it. This may seem odd to you at first glance – as it was for me – but after listening to Dan Benjamin discuss the problem with quiet on an episode of his Back to Work podcast, it sunk in.

    Benjamin — and I’m paraphrasing here — discusses how we are not meant to work in a completely quiet or noise-free environment. In fact, if you’re out in the woods and you hear the crickets chirping and other sounds of nature going on around you — and then it all stops — it means that there is danger lurking somewhere. It creates a tension that actually inhibits progress (save for the source of danger, perhaps) rather than promotes it.

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    You need to learn to work with the noise. When it’s too quiet, your mind naturally wonders when the next shoe is going to drop – or when the next distraction is going to arrive. That takes your focus away from the work. To have a din of crowd noise or the hum of your heating system clearly audible while you are working away may be enough for you to keep you on task. For others, they may need the hustle and bustle of an office or coffee shop to keep them focused on what they are doing. Absolute quiet (or the removal of ambient noise) can really work against you in many circumstances.

    Benjamin’s co-host, Merlin Mann, takes it a step further by saying (again, I’m paraphrasing here) that if you can’t deal with the distraction, then you clearly don’t care enough about what you’re doing at that moment. I need to have some kind of noise going on in order to write. Whether it be some music in the background or the noise of my kids playing in the house, I need to have some form of sound happening around me so that it pushes me to get the writing done. My kids playing is a reminder that I need to push through the work so I can join them, but it’s also a reminder of why I’m writing to begin with: to provide for them.

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    When Quiet Works

    Quiet can be your best friend when you need to let your mind wander. There’s often nothing better to have around you than “quietude” when you don’t have to focus on one thing in particular. When you invite quiet into your world, you invite the possibility of noise as well. That means that the noise of your ideas, your thoughts, your plans and your goals that may not have a a chance to breathe otherwise can freely enter and leave your mind without fear of repression. That’s when quiet works for you – and when you need that time that is when you should work to find quiet.

    Conclusion

    Noise is very subjective. One person’s music is another person’s noise. But what you can accomplish while surrounded by noise of varying volumes can be very specific, because your mind (when disciplined and working on something important enough to you) can wade through the noise and get to the work. Quiet invites your own personal noise into your world, which can be the ultimate distraction unless you want all of it to be present.

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    So don’t seek quiet to escape the noise – it can and will work for you. Seek to find quiet for the time to let your own personal noise come into play. That’s when counter-productivity can turn into productivity in both the short – and loing – term.

    (Photo credit: Portrait of Young Man via Shutterstock)

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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 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.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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