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The Friday Five

Quieting the Noisiest Place on Earth

By Paul H. Burton

The noisiest place on earth is between our ears. Never mind the raging cacophony of interruptions and distractions from the outside world, consider all the self-talk going on inside our heads! “Oh, ya! Need to get that done.” “Can’t forget about that project.” “Remember to pick up Suzie at 3 p.m.!” “Must get milk, and bread, and cereal and ….”

The symphony playing between our ears runs non-stop every waking moment of the day. The louder it gets, the less we get done. That’s because productivity comes from focused attention, and focused attention comes from a quiet mind. So if your goal is to stay in charge of your life and enjoy real success—the feeling of accomplishment and the freedom of choice—you need to find ways to quiet your mind so you can get more done. Here are five ways to help you do that.

1. Conduct regular core dumps. Scientific research finds that we can only effectively keep track of four things at once. That’s it. At four, we’re 100 percent full up! Even if we’re super-human, maybe we can track eight. Even so, most of us have more than eight things to do, so we’re still up a creek. More to the point, trying to keep those reminders in our working brain is noisy. They’re drowning out the focus we need to be productive. The solution is to conduct regular core dumps. Write down everything that’s bouncing around in your head on a list—digital or physical. Once it’s out of your brain, you only have to remember one thing: Look at the list!

2. Create a designated workspace. When your physical space is noisy, your mental space is noisy. Regardless of whether it’s organized piles of files or the oft-seen heap in the middle of the desk, both are blaring with reminders about what else needs your attention. The reason is simple: peripheral vision. The human eye can see 120 degrees in each direction, and everything in that viewfinder pings in the brain. The result is internal noise. To abate this result, clear off a definable area as a “designated work area.” For example, clear your entire desk of everything and create a clean and silent place on which to work.

3. Face away from traffic. Another negative effect of peripheral vision is the involuntary reaction to look over and up every time someone walks by your workspace—and the worst-case scenario when you are trying to focus is that someone walks into your office after catching your eye. This results in a productivity holiday. It can take up to 15 minutes to get back on track after a significant interruption and, with today’s ever-decreasing attention spans, who can afford that? Turning your desk to face away from passing traffic solves this problem. Now when people pass by, you don’t look up—and they see you working!

4. Escape open-door policies. Collegiality is a wonderful thing. Being interrupted on an ad hoc basis is a bad thing, and that’s exactly what open-door policies create. Instead of trying to change the culture of your entire organization, what if you just escaped it from time to time? What if you went to an empty office or conference room periodically throughout the day—just for 30 minutes or maybe 60—to get specific things done? Your defense is that you are attending to important client work!

5. Multiple monitors are stupid. More and more brain science is confirming what we’ve long known: People can’t multitask. Not convinced yet? Try being a passenger in a car while the driver texts. That’ll make a believer out of you … if you survive. I know it’s all the rage to have multiple monitors on desks. The reality, however, is there’s only one good use for them: the aggregation of disparate data sources into a single place (think term paper). Otherwise, they’re a distraction-fest of the highest order. We all need to get over being cool and get on with being productive. Cool doesn’t get us home to our family sooner. The most important place to keep quiet is your mind—that’s where the heavy lifting of productivity occurs. Distractions and interruptions, whether self-inflicted or delivered from the outside world, drastically increase the noise level between your ears. Pursue ways to quiet that space down and get more done, feel more successful and enjoy life more.

As the creator of the QuietSpacing method, Paul H. Burton helps people regain command of their day, get more done and enjoy their personal and professional lives more. Learn more about Paul’s speaking, writing, training and coaching at www.quietspacing.com.

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Paul H. Burton

Paul Burton is a former corporate finance attorney who helps people regain command of their day. As a nationally recognized time management expert, Paul regularly speaks to audiences about getting more done and enjoying greater personal and professional satisfaction. He is the author of six books on productivity. Learn more about Paul and his practice at quietspacing.com and follow him @QuietSpacing.