by Joseph McCormack, founder of The Quiet Workplace and author of “Quiet Works: Making Silence the Secret Ingredient of the Workday”
Another year is winding down, and, sadly, your job is STILL making you miserable. You’re stressed, burned out, and overwhelmed. Even when you manage to get things done, your work is at best unfulfilling and at worst totally meaningless. And at the end of the day, you’re too exhausted to enjoy your friends and family.
The worst part is, you’re not exactly sure why you feel this way. Are you in the wrong position? The wrong company? The wrong field? All you know is that as 2024 barrels closer, it’s discouraging to think of enduring another year of… this.
Here’s another theory: The problem is that you collaborate, communicate, and consume far too much noise (it’s inhumane, unprofessional, and nonsensical).
We’ve been conditioned to believe that the hurricane of noise that we are plunged into at the office is normal. It’s not ‘normal’ at all. From literal noise in the form of digital distractions and disruptive coworkers to an overabundance of information, thoughtless communication, and meetings, professionals are set up to fail. We are left starving for quiet — the quiet that allows us to work strategically and intentionally do what’s most essential for all professionals: think.
This is why most people would be well served to make their New Year’s resolution be to slow down to infuse quiet appointments into daily work life. Quiet doesn’t mean the literal absence of sound. Rather it’s about setting aside time each day to focus, plan, do deep work, and make smart decisions. In workplaces that revolve around busyness, action, and constant connection and collaboration, this is a radical choice, and one that packs an unexpected punch.
When quiet is a part of your daily routine, creativity blossoms, your relationships grow, and you can express yourself like never before. Why? Because quiet allows you to do your thinking upfront before you take any action.
Thinking should always come before speaking or doing, but it’s nearly impossible when professionals don’t intentionally make time for it. It’s the missing ingredient for most, and when you add it to your workday, you may experience life-changing results.
These changes won’t happen overnight, but as you spend the year focused on quiet, you’ll see a slow and steady improvement.
Here are some tips to try in 2024:
Don’t wait for permission to collaborate less.
Some might worry that their boss, coworkers, or clients won’t let them take time for quiet. This is a real concern; however, an often-effective approach is to act like you’ve been given permission and wait to see if anyone challenges or calls you out, says McCormack. If they don’t, you’ve got the green light to practice quiet at your discretion. If they do, consider talking with them about your need for more concentration and why you’re doing it. They will have a change of heart when they understand your motives — and see the results for themselves.
Get quiet on your calendar.
If you don’t book it, you won’t do it. Treat your quiet time just like you would any other professional appointment. Further, when you’re planning your day, don’t fill your calendar with back-to-back meetings all day with no space in between. Schedule at least small blocks of time before and after each meeting to organize your thoughts and prepare.
Protect your quiet space.
You may or may not have an office with a door, but regardless, you can still designate a specific area as your own quiet workplace. Put up a sign that reads “do not disturb” and ask people directly not to communicate with you during your designated quiet time. You could also wear noise-canceling headphones to signal that you’re focusing, or reserve a conference room or find an unoccupied office for some uninterrupted work. If you’re working remotely, simply turn off notifications and get offline.
Keep quiet time simple.
You don’t need to study or learn any specific technique to experience quiet. At the same time, the main goal of quiet is to simply do one thing at a time. If you’re reading, just read. If you’re planning, just plan. If you’re listening, just listen. Just because our minds can do many things at once, that doesn’t mean we should operate in this state, says McCormack. Doing only one thing at a time is the slowdown our minds are craving.
Take “Tech Timeouts.”
Most of us are tethered to technology all day, and this overreliance sets us up for abundant distractions and disruptions. A Tech Timeout can turn down the noise at work. To do this, simply hit mute on your devices. Silence your phone or turn off alerts that tell you when you’ve received a text, an email, or a social media communication. Next, separate yourself physically from nonessential devices; put them in a drawer or your backpack. Finally, reach for a pen and paper and see what happens. You might find that you don’t need screens to do your best work!
Use the 7-to-7 rule to rest, reflect, and recharge.
What is your first thought of the day? What is your last thought? Chances are, it involves checking your smartphone for updates. The 7-to-7 rule will help you break this habit and get more intentional with your use of technology. To use this rule, put your phone and other devices away beginning at 7:00 p.m. and don’t check them again until 7:00 a.m. the next day. If this time window doesn’t make sense for you, choose one that does. The point is to set boundaries around screentime and provide time for more enriching activities (including quiet).
Finally, set an example for your coworkers. Talk to them about your quiet journey and invite them to join you.
Be a quiet ambassador by sharing the benefits you experience in the new year. Explain how embracing more time alone has improved your professional life and how you can better collaborate with them when you interact. This will begin to shift the workplace culture and help your coworkers become productive and efficient in the process. Giving them the gift of quiet is one of the best ways to ensure that they, too, have a happy new year.
Joseph McCormack is founder of The Quiet Workplace and the author of the upcoming book “Quiet Works: Making Silence the Secret Ingredient of the Workday”. As an entrepreneur, marketing executive, and author, he is recognized for his work in concise, strategic communication and leadership development.