The Noisiest Place on Earth … Between Your Ears

The modern work environment is a symphony of interruption and distraction. But it’s not the real productivity saboteur.  The true villain resides inside our head.   It’s that little voice constantly reminding us of all that needs doing – the “Oh, ya!” and the “Can’t forget that.” and the “That too; gotta get that done!”

It’s a fact.  The noisiest place on earth is between our ears.  Yet it’s the place that must be quietest for us to focus because focus drives productivity.  The more focused we get, the better work we do and the more of it we get done.

The problem is that the outside world is constantly demanding our attention.  Consequently, it seems impossible – even counter-productive – to pursue quieting strategies.  In essence we’ve become dependent (addicted?) to the frenzy, the activity, the urgency of the frenetic world.

The truth is that pursuing a quiet mind settles the nerves while increasing focus.  The resulting calm produces more and higher-quality work product.  Most importantly, we feel more successful and in control of our days and our careers.

Here are three suggestions for quieting down the noisiest place on earth.

1.  Develop a Highly Functional To-Do List.  A highly functional to-do list is one on which everything that must be done is captured and one that queues up those tasks on an as-needed basis.  Most to-do lists only accomplish the first goal – the capturing of work.  Adding a queuing mechanism – a reminder or tickler feature – transforms that list into a highly functional one.

Doing this quiets your mind down because:

  • If everything is captured in one place on a list, then your mind only has to remember one thing…to look at the list!  Keeping track of one to-do, e.g., look at the list, is much quieter than trying to keep track of dozens of items separately.
  • Using a queuing system lets you focus on those few items that need your attention today.  You don’t have to cycle through the entire list looking for that next most-important thing, all the while being reminded of everything else that must also get done.

(Note, this, in part, is exactly what QuietSpacing does. That’s the end of the shameless self-promotion for this newsletter.)

2.  Regular Core Dumps.  David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done once quipped that if we were so smart, we’d remember that we need dog food while at the grocery store instead of during the drive home from the grocery store.  Recent research has demonstrated that the human mind can only keep track of four things at once.  That means that once we’ve got four things on our mind, the tank is full; it’s as noisy as it’s gonna get; nothing more can be squeezed in there.  The result is a lot of activity – evidenced by ping ponging around between tasks – and very little focused productivity.

The solution is to conduct regular core dumps.  Spit all that stuff out!  Get it captured somewhere outside of your head.  Pen and paper works great, so does a note taking app on your computer or mobile device.  (I’m currently using Workflowy as my Web 2.0 app of choice.)  Getting it out of your head will result in a much quieter place and allow you to focus on the tasks that truly need your attention today.

Oh, and don’t forget, you only need to remember to look at the list!

3. Insert Quiet Times in the Day.  Open-door policies and management by walking around sound like such great ideas.  To some extent they are if we’re only measuring camaraderie and team cohesiveness.  However, from a productivity standpoint, they’re pretty useless.  That’s because the interruptions and distractions they create negatively effect our ability to stayed focused on the task at hand.

Team cohesiveness and camaraderie are important, but so is productivity. The middle ground is to insert periods of forced quiet time for work throughout the day.  This may only be a one-hour period in the morning with the door closed.  It might mean finding an empty office or conference room in which a ninety-minute block of focused effort can be conducted.  In fact, even closing the office door three-quarters of the way communicates the need for no unnecessary interruptions.

More Quiet = More Done = More Sanity

The world screams for our attention all day every day.  Our minds mimic that cacophony by constantly reminding us of all that needs to be done.  This internal noise is deafening and results in more activity and less productivity, more stress and less sleep, more burnout and less satisfaction.

Give your mind a break.  Employ the three noise reducing suggestions above and luxuriate in the resulting calm, focus, and productivity.

© 2012, Paul H. Burton. All rights reserved.


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