If you’re feeling the need for more peace and quiet these days, you’re not alone.
Our ancestors grew up in a world free of noise pollution. No loud freeway sounds. No jet engines roaring overhead. No daily barrage of emails, voice mails, social media tweets and texts. Consequently, the human brain evolved to function at its best in relative peace and quiet.
In constant, unexpected change, it is even more important to find some quiet every day to recharge our brains periodically.
When we are in a plant, noise levels from machinery, trucks, and other activities can create incredibly loud spaces. Open space offices are particularly challenging. Even when alone in an office or at home, we’re connected to others via smart phones or mobile devices. So much so that looking at screens has become the predominate daily activity for most 21-century humans in the developed world.
Our brains don’t like this unnatural environment. According to the Pew Research Center, 85% of Americans consider it important to have time alone. Here’s why.
The human brain needs peace and quiet to rest and rejuvenate. It needs time to filter through all the information it receives every day and decide what to keep and what to get rid of. From a business standpoint, downtime with our brains is essential for staying focused on the destination. Otherwise it becomes hard to focus our time and attention on what we should be doing rather than the interruptions that never seem to stop.
When we’re deprived of the quiet and privacy the brain needs to calm down and relax, several things happen, none of which support winning in business.
Stress levels shoot up. Interruptions take our eye off the ball. Without quiet time we lose the ability to think and plan (instead of just “doing” all the time). Creativity and decision-making suffer. The borders we put up to create space for ourselves counteract the communication and teamwork needed to respond to rapidly changing markets.
We stop talking to folks we sit next to. We block out noise and interaction with headphones. We use more technology and less face-to-face. When the technology overwhelms us, we delay or stop returning emails, voice mails, and texts. We start taking lunch and other breaks by ourselves to create personal space.
Creating More Personal Space
We can’t do away completely with interruptions in the workplace. But we can learn to mitigate them by creating more personal space for ourselves. First, get conscious on how you split your attention. On average, employees are interrupted 50 to 60 times per day at work. It takes ten to 26 minutes to refocus on a thinking task following that interruption. And the really scary insight – approximately 50% of the decisions made at work today are rote behaviors – doing versus thinking, traveling the same pathways without considering if something changed or needs to be updated in our brains. We react vs. plan. We run vs. pace.
At the organizational level, we can:
- Schedule ourselves in (pretend) meetings to block out time so others don’t interrupt
- Determine a block of time each week where no emails are sent internally
- Provide “quiet” rooms where employees can mediate or focus intensely for short periods of time
- Respond to work messages only when we are active at work and not when we are on vacation or after hours
- Put up simple visuals on our outside cube or office wall (i.e. “Please come back in 30 minutes, I am focused on a project” or “Please schedule time with me, I am currently in an important meeting or interview or on a phone call…”)
At the personal level, we can:
- Take 5 minutes each morning to review the day ahead and think through how we will stay focused on our top priorities
- Take short mental breaks every day. Put the phone away, pause for a moment, take a few deep breaths and just relax. That ‘smart’ phone is making you approximately 25% dumber each day according to recent research.
- Let our brains wander. Look out the window and let our minds roam, thinking about anything but business for a minute or two
- Go outside for lunch and walk barefoot in the grass
- Breath more deeply than usual throughout the day
- Schedule certain times during the day to respond to emails and other interruptions
- Spend the time to get organized. Visual clutter, clutters our brain
Winning in business requires focus. The more quiet time our brains have to rest, rejuvenate and ponder what could be – without interruption – the more we can focus on getting the right things done. Providing employees the quiet time they need will boost their creativity and productivity while helping them stay focused on the organization’s destination and winning.