Yes, we live in a world of constant “noise”—a tsunami of work e-mails, social media updates, never-ending news coverage, and other relentless forms of digital distraction. That’s not going to change. But you don’t have to let it overwhelm you, erode your concentration, fog your thinking and focus, and tune out the things that really matter.
Joe McCormack says there are some simple changes you can make that will empower you to start managing the noise and taking control of your most precious resource: your attention. These easy, practical, doable tips will help you begin to form the right habits to silence noise and reclaim your long-lost focus and peace.
Daily Life and Relationship Habits
Decide what’s essential. Prioritize it. Noise distracts and leaves you unproductive and without direction. And when people are ruled by noise, they live by default. Therefore, you need to get intentional about prioritizing what matters most to you. Write your defining “go-to” goals in a few words on a small Post-It note. This forces you to keep your goals simple and helps you simplify your life. (For instance: “write next book” or “listen more.”)
Tell people about your plan to simplify your life. When you know exactly what you want to focus on, make a public pact. Create a short list of people you can confide in and share your plan with them. They will help keep you accountable and support you.
Master impulse management by saying “no.” When your mind latches onto things that don’t matter, just say “no” to the impulse to get distracted. Cell phone binging with texts or updates? Just say no. Get distracted by a new thought on your way to grab a pair of scissors? Just say no and focus on grabbing the scissors. Practice this skill every day.
Get relentless about clearing the clutter. Whether it’s crowding your home or your digital world, clutter is just another form of noise. Routinely find items you don’t need and throw them away. Delete an app on your phone that you no longer use. Uncluttering your world encourages more minimalism.
Carve out quiet time during the day. Our brains are high-performance machines, but they crave quiet to rest and reset. Find time for moments of quiet throughout the day: Unplug during your commute, sit quietly for a few minutes after work, or meditate for a few minutes first thing in the morning or just before bed.
Use the 7-to-7 rule to curb your smartphone addiction. After 7:00 p.m., put away your phone for the night. Don’t pick it up again until 7:00 a.m. the next day. This habit reduces screen time and allows for other regenerative activities like reading, conversations, meditation, and exercise.
Let yourself feel little feelings. Without realizing it, we can miss small, yet important parts of our day. Think of three or four simple things you do unconsciously every day. Maybe it’s taking a shower, drinking a glass of water, or sitting in a comfortable chair. While you do these things, feel what it feels like and truly experience it. This gets us started tuning into and appreciating small moments that can turn into something much more meaningful and rewarding.
Keep conversations civil and judgment-free. Heated debates, social media feuds, and angry words are becoming more common today. Tuning out is an immediate response when you don’t share an opponent’s opinion or perspective. When someone tells you something you disagree with, practice listening without judgment and resist the urge to shut down.
Practice present listening. Present listening means both that you are in the moment—not racing ahead or looking back, but in the here and now—and giving your listening as a gift while expecting nothing in return. Be interested, ask questions, and remember that it’s not about you. Resist the urge to follow momentary emotions and thoughts. This lowers the noise around you so that you both get the most out of the exchange.
Leadership and Work Habits
Shut off the firehose of information. For transparency, leaders may foster a steady stream of e-mail blasts, town hall meetings, social media posts, video tutorials, and cascading messages. The confuses and frustrates employees and causes them to tune out. Inform your team but don’t force them to consume so much information that they can’t decipher the message.
Be brilliant, be brief, and be gone. In all of your communications—whether you’re writing an e-mail, making a speech, or holding a conversation with an employee—say only what needs to be said. People want brevity. They get irritated when they must sift through long, complicated messages. Worse, they can’t grasp the main point and fail to do what you need them to do.
Cut jargon and buzzwords from your vocabulary. Call a moratorium on phrases like “Strategically leverage platforms to scale growth” or “Turnkey solutions to optimize enterprise impact.” These words are meaningless, and what’s worse, they trigger the Elusive 600 in employees and cause their eyes to glaze over. Say what you mean as clearly as possible and leave out unnecessary corporate-speak.
Hold fewer and better meetings. Professionals spend 23 hours a week in meetings. If you’re a leader, stop holding unnecessary meetings. When a meeting is justifiable, invite only those who are essential to attend. Set your objectives ahead of time, and state them at the beginning of the meeting. Get people involved and ask questions so you can get the feedback of the people in the room. Finally, use your time wisely so you won’t lose people’s attention.
Seek out silent spaces and find other ways to drown out the noise. Modern offices are designed to foster connection and collaboration, but open floor plans usually just breed distraction. Find (or request) a quiet place you can go to focus deeply and get work done. Or invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Take five to get things done. Block off realistic five-minute segments of time to completely focus on and tackle one particular task throughout the day, starting and stopping on time. If you need more time, add another five minutes.
Send fewer e-mails and encourage others to do the same. If the e-mail you’re typing isn’t necessary, don’t send it. According to Templafy, a technology provider, the average office worker receives 121 e-mails per day and sends 40 business e-mails a day.1 These continual interruptions drain our brain.
Commit to work-free nights and weekends. Don’t bring your work home with you. Working all the time leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. Use your weeknights and weekends to relax, recover, and recharge. This ensures that when you show up to work, you can do your best.
Talk to teens about technology in terms of “balance”… By the teen years, most kids have smartphones, tablets, and laptops of their own. That’s not likely to change. Besides, there are benefits to technology, and kids will surely need to navigate it when they enter the adult world. But rather than just imposing strict limits, explain to them that while there’s a place for screens, they should never displace time with family, friends, homework, and other responsibilities.
…and back up your words by keeping them busy. When kids know they have to do homework, go to band practice, get in volunteer hours, and do chores before they get to sit down at the computer, they’ll get in the habit of prioritizing life over technology.
Set the right example, and narrate the choices you’re making and why. When you spend hours watching TV or scrolling through Facebook after work, why would you not expect your kids to do the same? Spend your time in more productive, enriching, and rewarding ways. And talk about it. Say, “I’m really enjoying this pottery class. I like being creative.” Or, “I love working at the soup kitchen. It makes me feel happy to help others.”
Monitor your child’s use of social media. Periodically check their phone. Browse their internet history. You need to be aware of what your child is doing online. Social media exposes your kids to a world of comparison, bullying, exclusion, FOMO, and isolation, and it’s hurting them. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of adolescents who experienced at least one major depressive episode leapt by 60 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).2 Fight against this by first having a discussion about cyberbullying, why it’s wrong, and what to do if your child encounters it. Then set healthy limits on how much time (if any) your child is allowed on social media.
Make (tech-free) family time a priority. Schedule some fun family events on nights and weekends where you all unplug together and enjoy living in the moment. Some ideas include camping trips, going out to dinner, taking a road trip, or visiting an amusement park.
Encourage your teen to have “unplugged” hangouts with friends. Encourage your kids to build meaningful in-person friendships with their peers—not just via text or social media. Chaperone a group outing (minus phones and other devices) to the bowling alley, the beach, or a nearby park.
Have deviceless dinners. Dinner time can be a sacred time for families. Make a family pact to totally disconnect and enjoy each other’s company while you share a meal together. Take turns talking about your day and really connect with each other.
Designate screen-free areas at home. The places your kids (and you) sleep, converse, and eat should generally be free of technology, especially screens. For example, replace the television in the living room with beautiful artwork or family photos. Replace the computer monitor in the living room with a cozy chair and some nice bookshelves to create a reading nook.
Enforce a reasonable bedtime—especially during the school week. Eighty-six percent of students take their phones with them to bed. Further, teenagers need to get more than nine hours of sleep a night, but they are lucky to get seven.3 Get your kids in the habit of getting plenty of sleep; their developing brains need time to recharge.
# # #
- “How Many Emails Are Sent Every Day? And Other Top Email Statistics Your Business Needs to Know,” Templafy, September 1, 2017, www.templafy.com/blog/how-many-emails-are-sent-every-day-top-email-statistics-your-business-needs-to-know/.
- Markham Heid, “We Need to Talk About Kids and Smartphones,” Time, October 10, 2017, time.com/4974863/kids-smartphones-depression/.
- “Sleep Disorder Statistics—Research and Treatments,” American Sleep Association, 2019, www.sleepassociation.org/about-sleep/sleep-statistics/.