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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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    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 10, 2020

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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