Posts in organization
Noise Levels and Work: Finding Your Sweet Spot
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What's your optimal level of noise? 

I have a friend named William who needs absolute silence when he studies.  He goes into a room, closes the door and reads.  Another friend, Sharon, can work with a higher level of noise.  Her preferred space for work is the coffee shop close to her house. 

I'm probably somewhere in the middle.  I don't mind some noise but I need space to zone out and get things done.

How about you? 

At what point do you slow down and see your work suffering as a result of the noise around you?  It could be a result of coworkers interruptions or enabled chimes on your laptop.  It could also be a result of the noise in your own head- distractions are something we all deal with.

In this way, work is similar to prayer in that we all have to find ways to dial back our internal noise.   For me, my role at work is often a distraction and one that I have to "work" to keep in place.  

Here's the deal- first, you'll want to identify the ideal levels of noise for your work productivity.   Are you more like Sharon or Will?  Or, maybe you're like me and you don't mind a bit of background noise?  Pay attention to the times in your week when you are especially productive.  How much noise was there?

Second, let's discuss some strategies for embracing your ideal noise levels.  Here are my three recommendations:

  •  Stop worrying so much about what others think about you when you work.  After all, the bottom line is to produce good work that matters to the organization.  If you work in a company that allows headphones, go for it.  If you are in a cubicle, see if some quiet background noise is allowed and then make it happen.  If you are a "total quiet" kind of worker, figure out spaces that allow for you to get alone and get quiet.
  • Be a person who suggests change and then participate in the progress.  Read here what 37 Signals does to promote a quiet workplace.  You could do that too. 
  •  Get into the zone as often as possible, with noise reduction as your ally.  What we are talking about is pretty important stuff- your career, family, social network, even your faith all depend on periods of time in which you can focus and get things done.  Figure out the noise stuff and you're one step closer to hitting it out of the park on a regular basis.

Is all of this relative?  Sure.  Is it vitally important to figure out and then repeat over and over again?  Absolutely. 

What's your ideal level of noise when you are hard at work? 

 *BTW, Craig Jarrow shared a link to a great (and free!) service called Coffitity.  Simple enough, Coffitity provides coffee shop background noise for when you work.  I've used it for a few days now and it's great! 

**photo courtesy of TMN 

One Year Ago on The Daily Saint: Clean-Edge Productivity
Sarah wakes up 15 minutes later than she wanted to.  The baby is crying and Tim, her older child needs to get ready for school.  Bob, Sarah's husband has already left for work and leaves a note that says, "Hon, don't forget to get a birthday gift for Clark.  Tomorrow is his big day."  More stress.  30 minutes later, with baby in tow and Tim partially ready for school, Sarah heads out the door, only to realize that the bus has already come and she must drive Tim, yet again to school.

Does this sound like anyone you know?

Look at Sarah's demands: childcare, waking up late, a husband's requests, clothing, busing, parenting.  Not an easy plate to maintain and yet a reality for so many folks.  What could she have done differently to minimize her stress?

  • Get more rest. By going to bed earlier the night before, Sarah would ensure that the following morning, at the very least, would leave her feeling rested.

  • Practice a morning ritual as if it was religion. Getting up at the same time eases stress and provides what Stephen Covey calls the "private victory"

  • Prepare clothing the night before. By taking 5 minutes to lay out clothing, iron wrinkled clothing and hanging things where you want them to be, the morning can run that much smoother.

  • Use an on-line calendar to remind you of gifting ideas and deadlines. With such free and easy tools like Google Calendar, anyone can remember a holiday or deadline before it happens.


What Sarah is experiencing is the polar opposite of what GTD practitioners call "clean edges".  What is a clean edge?  An aspect of a system which keeps things in check and allows you to function at a more productive level.

Examples of clean edge productivity:

  1. A voice mailbox that is checked regularly and doesn't leave 15 messages in "in".

  2. An email in-box which gets to zero regularly and is a tool/resource rather than a constant annoyance.

  3. Social commitments which work for you and are reasonable.  A clean edge is not rushing from one social event to the next, barely connecting with any one on a deep human level.

  4. Physical space which is uncluttered and organized.  Excess 'junk' is tossed regularly or donated to charity.

  5. List systems which capture "errands", "someday maybe" and whatever else comes into your mind.  I recently added an "items to buy" list which is handy because whenever I seem to be in a store and need something, I forget what I needed, etc.


Why not practice a clean-edge philosophy starting today? Better yet, why not put it into practice?  Like Sarah, I am confident that your mornings will be less stressful as well as the rest of the day.

Photo by KatyBeck