The magic of “noise” cancellation

There’s a lot of “ambient” noise around us in these challenging times- some required to give us perspective- most however just stress-inducing and an intrusion to our private spaces

Close your eyes for a few seconds and observe the “ambient sounds” around you – the mind-numbing hum of the fan. the slow-cycle of the washing machine, the drone of the aircraft engine as you try to grab some sleep maybe? the nuanced “click” of the power stabilizer at 2am, the soft purr of the apartment waste disposal plant…. and more.

Have you realized that unlike our eyes, our ears are “differently-abled”- for we just cannot close or shut it as it were and over time we’ve learnt to accept, without choice this background score to our lives as necessary.

“Cancelling” distractions and Staying focused at work is not easy, especially when working from home, but it is doable. These five practical techniques I hope will help you stay on task, accomplish what matters, and stay focussed throughout the day.

(1) Practice Mindfulness: Having a personal morning routine that works best for you and preferably involves some “reflection” is a sure way to train your nervous system to calm despite the stress of our daily lives. When you are calmer, you are more emotionally intelligent and make better decisions.

(2) Don’t multi-task. Okay I’m going to have a few eyebrows being raised here- while there’s no arguing that multitasking is probably a good way to get a lot out of your limited time at your disposal, the truth is most of us suck at it.

Managing your calendar is key in these times where having a fully blocked day seems to be fashionable. Having 30 minutes to reflect post a meeting is critical and trying to structure the brainstorming sessions in the morning and the large group, general information sharing ones, back-to-back in the afternoon could help you get the most.

(3) Make your bed. Tidying up and keeping your work space in order helps your mind stay focussed. I have this crazy practice of saving important files I’m working on my desktop (laptop), and over time, its a big mess and I spend a lot of time just searching for files.

Cleaning up your desktop and “noise cancelling” unnecessary notifications helps immensely. Run through you app settings and go to notification and mute the ones that are not critical. Nothing hampers your line of thought like an ill-timed notification ping in the middle of a meeting.

Bonus tip: You know that pesky fellow with no sense of humour on your friends list that takes all your posts personally, out of context and is a bit too vocal about displaying his “more patriotic than thou” views- quietly mute the guy or better still unfollow/ unfriend him. Sure we don’t all have the same line of thought and I’m sure a couple … or maybe more, 🤨 have unfollowed me too, and it’s perfectly fine. 😂

(4) Manage your meetings: Have you noticed that the amount of time we spend on virtual meetings has dramatically increased since the pandemic as everyone wants to be “seen”.

While it’s important to stay connected during these challenging times- don’t overdo it. Stick to having 8-10 staff at a maximum on a meeting if possible, don’t invite everyone and their pet dog to meetings. Have an agenda, make sure action items are logged in with responsibilities and timelines communicated at the end of each meeting.

If there’s someone who is not going to take a decision or assigned an action item, consider if you want to pull in the poor chap onto the meeting, probably having him on the distribution list for the minutes may be a better idea.

(5) Chat is under-rated: I’ve worked at firms where more decisions were discussed and taken during a routine “smoke” break than in meetings. I’ve also traditionally fostered having “chai breaks” with my direct reports.

However working virtually has eaten up that very productive time, so I just schedule 1 short “team huddle” with no specific agenda in the morning and one in the evening, dismissing the need for me to keep disturbing my direct reports through the day for updates.

That’s it. I’m no management guru by any stretch of imagination, however I hope these practical tips would help you “cancel the noise” in your personal and professional spaces, reduce the stress inducing signals that threaten your peace of mind and make the best use of your time at work, so you have more time to do the things you love.

Stay Safe!

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