If you’re drowning in noise, seek quiet

As professionals, much of our value is based on our access to, and mastery of information. We are masters of our craft, and our clients expect us to be on top of the latest developments both in our field as well as external factors that may impact their objectives.

It’s a tall order, and especially as we face unprecedented global challenges (as well as opportunity), the noise and volume of information can be overwhelming.

How can we possibly develop strategic insights and recommendations when our phones are blowing up hundreds of times a day, the news is packed wall-to-wall with conflict and pandemic, and oh yes — our family and friends would like to see us from time-to-time too?

As is often the case, the answer is simple, but not easy. We find insights and clarity in moments of quiet.

Quiet. What a joke, right? It sounds downright quant in our world of 24/7 news, social media, and chaos. As I write this, I’ve gotten 5 text, 21 emails, and my kids are asking me to come watch TV with them. They even broke out the pouty faces.

Because quiet is a scarce commodity in today’s world, it is even more valuable. We have to force quiet into our lives in order to be sure we are focused and our actions are moving us in the direction we want to go. Otherwise, we will drift.

Here’s three ways I try to force quiet into my life to keep my tank full and my actions focused.

Regular quiet

My wife and I were talking about how overwhelming home life is right now (shameless plug: check out her amazing blog, Mom+Life) and how she wakes up at 6 am and goes straight until 10 or 11 pm. While entrepreneurship isn’t exactly 9 to 5, her days are far more demanding and taxing than mine.

In our conversation, the topic of natural rhythms came up, and how I have benefitted from splitting my day into sprints. This is the method popularized by Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working. Tony recommends working in a few focused 90 minute sprints throughout the day, with a hard break at the end of 90 minutes.

Aligning our work with our bodies’ natural rhythms allows us to spend our focus time actually focused, and give our bodies a break so we can replenish and focus again. The key is not only creating an environment where we can dedicate focused time to our work for 90 minutes, but also leveraging those breaks between sprints to fully recharge. It’s the perfect opportunity to build periodic quiet into our days.

While this schedule can be harder to achieve for a full-time mom with quarantined kids, it is achievable as long as we proactively schedule our day. By creating blocks of time on our calendar for work and quiet, we can fit appointments and tasks into the right slots without sacrificing our health, or the opportunity to find quiet and recharge.

Regular quiet can also come in the morning. I’ve found that a regular, consistent morning routine makes all the difference in my day, allowing me to be more focused and better serve those around me.

Little quiet

Creating proactive schedules can be a big task, but also with big rewards to find quiet moments throughout the day. It’s important though to also do little things to force noise out of our lives.

The best way to build margin into our days is to turn off all the notifications.

I mean it. All of them.

Email? Yes.

Twitter? Absolutely.

Games?!?!? Sorry, yes.

The role of notifications in our lives is based on the answer to a single question: Do we own our time, or does someone else?

I have watched strong, healthy, grown men shake with fear when their phone rings during a meeting. Yes, it might be a big sale, or a key client, or a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, but to me, a life lived with anxiety of the phone ringing is no life at all.

Total the cost of the phone itself, plus phone service, plus Internet, plus the kids phones / internet, plus the iPad, and the other add-ons (thanks AT&T Lily!), and you and I are paying hundreds of dollars a month — for what? So someone else can access us anytime they want? I’m sorry, no thanks.

I’m grateful for all of the people in my life, personally and professionally, but I own my time, and I am going to schedule my day around my priorities.

If we work our schedules right, we have blocks of time throughout the day for all of our projects, checking email, making calls, and doing the things we need to do to be productive. When we take back control of our calendars and build in space for quiet and recharging, everyone who needs our time gets a better version of us.

Do you own your time, or does some random person on Twitter? Cut them out, reclaim your time and find quiet in your day.

Big quiet

I’ll be honest, even when I am trying my best to schedule my day and am good about not re-adding notifications (just the breaking news alerts, I swear!), things can still get off track. Sometimes they get off track in a big way.

In those moments, when we realize life is not lining up the way we intended, it makes sense to hit pause and get away for a few days.

Recently I went through a big, unexpected life shift resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. In the chaos of shifting gears, changing lanes, and scrambling to care for my family, I realized I was flailing. I’m a big guy — me flailing is pretty ugly.

So we planned a few days away. No kids, just my wife and myself. For us, car time is when we talk and reconnect, so we planned to go somewhere with a bit of a drive. Fortunately, we could stay with family, and odds are you have friends or family with some sort of affordable option to get away even when things are tight.

Those few days were good — really good — for my soul. To spend hours at a chunk in solitude, journaling, and planning reconnected me to my purpose and vision for life. It gave me clarity for the next steps. We can back energized and focused, ready to take on the world.

Yes, we missed our kids. I had to say no to some work opportunities. But everyone in our lives has benefitted from the quiet we found on that retreat.

One of my favorite authors, Michael Hyatt, wrote two books related to finding big quiet that you might find useful. The first, Living Forward, is about connecting with your purpose and mission in life. It’s about getting the big buckets of your life in order and setting out a plan. Highly recommended as a starting point to stop drifting through life and get focused.

The next is Free to Focus, which is a great follow up to Living Forward. In Free to Focus, Hyatt breaks down the big goals that we have and provides a system to making progress towards them on a day-to-day basis.

Those are a couple of resources, but there are thousands more to help you clarify your vision and objectives, so you can fully take advantage of the opportunity to get away and find big quiet.

When we seek quiet, understanding, insight, and meaning we are better versions of ourselves. We can add more value to our work, pour more into our families, and end the day with fulfillment. Quiet is rare, we have to force it into our lives, but the benefit is rising above the noise to build a better life.

Can you force quiet into your day today?

Tech+politics. Founder Flat Creek & Datrm.in. SDG