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Are You Hiding in the Conference Room with Noise-Canceling Headphones?

Walking through a building of scientists one day, I noticed a sign taped to a door that reminded me of a handmade “Keep Out” message hanging from a child’s treehouse. The words said something about “Writing Time” and “Please Do Not Disturb.”

At first glance, the sign felt harsh and almost rude, but then I realized the archaeologists behind the closed door were trying to set boundaries and carve out some uninterrupted space where they could think and document their research. I noticed I was essentially doing the same thing, hiding in my car or in a vacant office, conference room or closet for a few precious un-fragmented moments, long enough to get some thoughts out of my head and onto paper in one cohesive effort.

That was a few years ago. And now, with iPhones seemingly everywhere – buzzing, dinging, vibrating in our pockets, purses, briefcases, cars, desks – it makes sense that our desire for a “noise-free” zone has only gotten stronger. The usual office space interruptions continue, but now with our electronic devices with us, behind our closed doors, we can’t even hide from our own obsessive screen-checking habits.

Entrepreneur Joseph McCormack, who has started a “Just Say No to Noise” movement, suggests “noise,” including “an avalanche of emails; pointless meetings; and an ever-snowballing to-do list” is causing many of us to feel unfocused and frazzled as a normal way of life, while stealing our time and energy, and stressing us out.

“We think, ‘This is just the reality of work in the Digital Age,’” says McCormack, author of the new book “NOISE: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus.” “We’ve forgotten how it feels not to be perpetually distracted and overwhelmed.”

If you just found yourself dramatically exhaling at the familiar thought of all this, or fantasized about what crime you could commit to receive solitary confinement or at least time in the hockey penalty box, read on.

McCormack is the founder of The BRIEF Lab, an organization dedicated to teaching professionals, military leaders and entrepreneurs how to think and communicate clearly. He says all this noise hurts our brain and takes us a valuable 25 minutes each time we get distracted! Ouch!

He offers suggestions. Here are a few:

Get intentional about your time and attention. Get to work on time in the morning and dive right into the most important task of the day. Don’t exhaust high-quality attention by reading news feeds, checking social media, deleting emails or looking at the weather.

Carve out quiet time. Prioritize it. A study conducted by The BRIEF Lab found that 64% of professionals reported having less than two hours a day of quiet, uninterrupted activity. Well, we can all do better, he says, by seeking out quiet spaces at the office when we need to do “deep work.” And, believe it or not, McCormack endorses the use of noise-canceling headphones and handwritten “do not disturb” signs taped to the door!

Give the screens a rest. In The BRIEF Lab study, 70% of respondents said they were likely to begin and end each day by checking their smartphones. McCormack recommends a “7-to-7 rule” to break our always-connected behavior. “Don’t check your smartphone or computer before 7 a.m., or after 7 p.m. This will provide vital quiet time for deeper thinking (typically in the morning) and greater reflection (in the evening). These are ideal moments to plan and prioritize activities.”

Try the “11-minute unplug” before critical conversations, presentations and meetings. Step away from all screens for 11 minutes and think intently about what you hope to accomplish. “You may have to take a walk or hide in a conference room, but it will be worth it,” he says. “Why 11 minutes? Because 10 isn’t quite enough.”

Master your impulse management skills. This means ignoring or silencing digital notifications. He also recommends just saying no to passersby who approach your desk.


If you are confrontationally averse, like I am, I suggest lying. I’ve used the finger-to-my-lips approach and then mouthing “I’m recording,” as I nod to some audio/visual equipment that no one really knows how to work. Also, for a couple hundred dollars, noise-canceling headphones may save you a fortune in sanity.  FBN


By Bonnie Stevens

Bonnie Stevens is a public relations consultant. She can be reached at bonnie.stevens@gmail.com


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