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Why Noise is Better Than Quiet

Why Noise is Better Than Quiet

    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.

    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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    Last Updated on December 17, 2018

    Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

    Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

    We live in a time of productivity overload.

    Everywhere you turn are articles and books about how to be more productive, how to squeeze 27 hours of work out of every 24, how to double your work pace, how to do more and more all in the name of someday getting out of the rat race. Well this is about the side effects of those ideas. If we aren’t multitasking, we feel lazy. If we aren’t doing everything, we feel like we’re slacking. We compare ourselves to others who we think are doing more, having more, getting more and achieving more, and it’s driving us crazy. We feel overwhelmed when we think we have too much to do, too much is expected of us, or that a stressor is too much for us to handle. And we respond by lashing out with emotions of anger, irritability, anxiety, doubt and helplessness.

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    This season especially is the most stressful time of year. Between the holidays, final exams, family gatherings and general feelings of guilt that it’s the end of the year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking of all the things you still need to get done. But if you use these tips, not only will you get the important stuff done, you’ll keep your sanity while doing it!

      Is this you?

      Change your thought pattern-stop thinking negatively

      When you feel overwhelmed, the first thing you do is start thinking negatively or begin to resent why it’s your responsibility in the first place! The first thing you have to do is to stop! Stop thinking negatively immediately. Instead, focus on the positive. If you’re stuck in traffic, think of how great it is to have some time to yourself. If you’re rushing trying to get things done by a deadline, think how lucky you are to have a purpose and to be working towards it. If you’re stressing about a final exam, think of how fortunate you are to be given the opportunity of higher education. After you’ve changed your thought patterns, you must then say to yourself “I can do this.” Keep saying it until you believe it and you’re more than halfway to ending feeling overwhelmed.

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      Take a deep breath/change your body posture

      When you’re stressed certain things happen to your body. You start to breath shallowly, you hunch over, you immediately tense up and all that tension drives your feelings of stress even more. Relax! Straighten your posture and take at least ten deep, cleansing, breaths. Force yourself to smile and do something to change your state. It could be as simple as giving yourself a hug or as silly as clapping your hands three times, throwing them up in the air and shouting “I GOT THIS!” Think to yourself, how would I sit/stand if I had perfect confidence and control of the situation?

      Focus on right now

      Now that you are in a better state of mind and are no longer thinking negatively, you need to focus on the here and now. Ask yourself this question: What is the most important thing I have control of and can act on right now? Keep asking yourself this until you have a concrete next step.

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      Take Action

      Now that you know what’s most important and what to do about it, do it! Start with the first step and focus on getting that done. Don’t worry about anything else right now, just on what your first step is and how to get it done. Once that’s done with, determine the next most important step and get that done.

      Let go of what you can’t control (the gambler’s theory)

      Seasoned gamblers understand the importance of due diligence and knowing when to let go. The Gambler’s Theory is that once your bet is placed there is nothing you can do, so you might as well relax and enjoy the process. The time to worry is when you’re figuring out the best odds and making the decision of what to bet when you can actually take action. I used this one a lot in college. After an exam, there is absolutely no point in stressing about it. There’s nothing you can do. And the same goes for feeling overwhelmed. If you can do something about your situation, do it, focus and take action. But if you’ve done what you could and now are just waiting, or if you’re worried about something you have no control over, realize that there’s no point. You might as well relax and enjoy the moment.

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        Relax and enjoy the moment

        Stop feeling guilty

        Finally, stop comparing yourself to others. If you are at your wits end trying to keep up with what you think you should be doing, you aren’t being fair to yourself. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t strive for improvement, just don’t go overboard because you feel like you have to. Only you know what’s really important to you, and your personal success journey so focus on what your top priorities are, not someone else’s.

        Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. The important thing is to realize it’s normal and that you can do something about it by taking focused and deliberate action. Happy Holidays!

        Featured photo credit: Stress Therapy via flickr.com

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