In a world overcome by technology, competition and the 24-hour news cycle, it is difficult to imagine finding some time of solitude and silence. How important is it to take a step away from the distractions and information barrage of our daily lives? How does silence influence our productivity?
Recent studies have shown that humans need a certain amount of silence in order to maintain effective levels of concentration. Researchers Stephen A. Stansfeld and Mark P. Matheson concluded that both speech and non-speech based noise can impair performance, including reading comprehension and memory selectivity. The study showed that even the anticipation of noise can be a factor in hindering productivity.
As our daily work activities require more and more concentration, it seems that our workplace environments are not keeping up with this demand. Whether it is the constant barrage of phone calls or the hum of the news outlet in the background, finding the time for any significant length of concentration becomes more and more challenging.
What are some things you can do to carve out some concentration time?
1. Close the door. While companies maintain an “open door policy” to facilitate conversation and collaboration, it might also be a good idea to reserve some time each day where you can work uninterrupted. Set the parameters that would allow you to do so, whether it is filtering incoming calls or reserving a block of time on your calendar where meetings cannot be scheduled. Decreasing the “anticipation of noise” during these times can increase concentration and productivity.
2. Consider office design. If you are fortunate enough to be in a place where you have control over the creation of your work environment, consider a design that would allow employees to have more quiet space. If this cannot be done in the floor plan, perhaps there is a designated office that can be shared by employees who require more quiet space from time to time. In a recent analysis of noise in the workplace, Lorraine Maxwell concludes that ceiling height, carpeting, the installation of partitions and even the installation of plants can all help to reduce noise in the workplace.
3. Experiment with earplugs. While this may not always be appropriate at the workplace, this might be a helpful activity outside of the office. Some find that listening to instrumental music, such as Mozart or other classical composers, can increase concentration and productivity. It essentially absorbs all of the outside noises and creates an environmental space that is no longer jarring. Find the music that works best for you. Sometimes even a white noise or environmental sound can do the trick.
4. Find a moment of solitude outside of the office. Don’t be afraid to get outside and take a walk or a drive. A change of pace and a change of environment, as well as the silence that comes with it, can do wonders for efficiency later on in the day.
Prioritizing our own concentration is increasingly challenging in a workday filled with meetings, phone calls and checking things off of the list. However, carving out the time we need to do our tasks is essential if we want our workplace performance to match our intended goals. Gifting ourselves a space of silence is one of the best things we can do to invest in our own productivity.