At Work in Search of Silence
I am convinced that what business needs now is quiet.
I mean sweet and deliberate quiet; time away from the constant dictates of the information age, hours far from the mind numbing search for endless stimulation on facebook and twitter, and at least one hour a day where the engagement happens not on line but with the person in the cubicle right next to yours.
I am convinced that all these changes will not just raise well being and happiness at work, but cut down on the time spent there.
My friend, Natalie Suite, a marketing manager and an adventurer who spends hours on the ocean on a kayak, or jumping from planes in a parachute, or running for miles in solitude would call this detachment essential criteria for living.
“Real thinking,” Natalie said last Saturday during the wee hours of the morning as we, 5 women, sipped wine in an apartment that overlooked a moonlit ocean, “comes in the quiet moments when you can calm your mind and wade through the voices in your head.”
Natalie was right about the value of stillness in the personal context but it seems that at work, the very place where leaders and yes, even employees need to be still in order to create, make decisions, and clear their desks, what we have bought into is the complete opposite.
We receive information faster than we can absorb and react to it. We reply instantly to emails. We seek distraction from the job at hand. We stream World Cup football as we open documents and try to work on them. We surf rather than dive into content. We utilise precious hours in the vast space of the information age but we really don’t have the time or inclination to penetrate its depths.
Yet there is little evidence that our relentless pursuit of information and constant stimulation has helped us make better decisions or live better lives or even be more efficient at work.
I only realised the truth in the sheer beauty of this over the past month as I held two pressure posts and decided to use an altogether different approach to the way I worked.
I switched off my constant love affair with the Internet, decided on the hours I would go online to rspond to emails, stopped working with Twitter and facebook in the background. The result? I produced twice the amount of work in half the time, (I’ve always produced a high volume of work and was very surprised by this result), was less stressed and had lots more time to connect in less virtual ways.
My experience is borne out by recent research which says that multitaskers are worse at noticing important aspects of their surroundings than those who consume information more deliberately. They also tend to spend more time at work since their focus is largely absent.
What’s the alternative? I agree with Natalie. Calm deliberation has a place and not just in your personal life. I am not talking about lethargy, nor a slow down in getting things done but an approach to work that avoids the cacophony of modern technology, one that makes our mental lives look less like an unproductive churn.
How and when can this happen? That will be the subject of a series of posts starting this week.