The Importance of Quiet in a Busy World

The world is a fast-paced place. Things that used to take days now take minutes, seconds even. With how fast things happen you’d think we would have a lot of free time to enjoy life and spend time with loved ones. Unless if you’ve lived under a rock your whole life you know that this isn’t reality. Given that we can now do things faster than ever and don’t have to worry about survival, as our ancestors did, we’ve managed to find a lot of meaningless things to take up our free time.

Between scrolling endlessly on Instagram or looking up conspiracies on the true meaning behind Rick and Morty, we can’t seem to spend more than a few minutes without doing something. Think about it, when’s the last time you didn’t take your phone into the bathroom with you or the last time you sat quietly to just think? Why is it that we have such a need to always remain occupied? What’s our obsession with staying busy and never having a moment with ourselves?

I suspect we all have our own reasons. For some, it may be that there are a lot of things that we don’t want to think about or face in our lives, such as work or difficult decisions we have to make. All of those stressors are better pushed out by distractions. I find myself here a lot, time to think can bring up feelings I’m too busy to deal with right now, so it gets pushed aside. Maybe we’re obsessed with being productive all the time and we see answering our emails constantly as an opportunity for career advancement.

There’s a lot of science out there that speaks on this, and truth be told I can’t act as if I know all of it. But what I can say is that through my own life experience, both personally and in my professional life as a creative, I’ve seen the impact needless busyness has had on my life.

Dr. Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, first turned me on to the concept of “Deep Work” when I stumbled across his Tedx Talk on why we should quit social media. Admittedly, I was on my second sleeve of Oreos and pushing on hour two of watching random videos on YouTube when I saw this.

In this specific talk, Cal focuses on social media and it’s adverse effects on our brains. He speaks a lot about fragmented attention and how it has the capability of permanently reducing our capacity for concentration (ever gotten that itchy feeling when you haven’t checked Instagram in 20 minutes?).

I’d say a lot of us can relate to oftentimes being very busy but never getting anything done. And of course, there are those out there that still think multi-tasking is a good thing (surprise, it’s not). He makes a good point when talking about how people value work that is deep and has value. These are things that take time and concentration to create, which are nearly impossible to do when you can’t keep focused for longer than 15 minutes.

He also talks about how social media heightens our exposure to becoming lonely and feeling isolated, along with feeling inadequate and depressed when comparing ourselves to others on our feeds. Chase Jarvis puts it best when he talks about how we compare our behind the scenes to the highlight reels of others online. These things, in turn, give us a slew of anxiety-fueled disorders that don’t seem to go away (such as imposters syndrome).

In his book, Deep Work, Cal focuses in on the massive benefits of isolating oneself and removing all of the distractions that cause us to fragment our attention. He talks about training ourselves to be able to focus on a singular task for hours on end and entering a state commonly referred to as “flow.” Not only does your concentration increase dramatically, but the quality of your work shoots through the roof. You’re performing at an optimum level.

After reading the book and applying as much of it as I’ve been able to in my life, which is no easy task, I definitely found a lot of benefits of quieting my world. As an artist, I’m able to focus more intensely on the work I’m doing, dramatically increasing the quality of my work while decreasing the amount of time I have to spend doing it. I’m able to solve problems quicker and make fewer mistakes by not constantly breaking my concentration on all of the Facebook notifications I get, most of which comes from my mom.

Ultimately, it seems like a giant feat to try to live a peaceful and quiet life in an era of technology and constant buzzing. For those of you who say this isn’t possible in today’s day and age, I get it, there are a lot of us that need to be plugged in, especially if your work ties in with current events, social media, or other digital resources. This article isn’t asking you to be disconnected all the time, simply to be disconnected at the right times.

You may need to be connected to your device during regular work hours and that’s okay. During a night out with friends or on that date? Not so much. The benefit of deep work is that when we do something we’re able to focus on it and be intentional with the attention we pay it. This helps us get the most out of our work when we’re connected; whether that’s with email or someone special to us.

But making small steps into a disconnected life by uninstalling social media apps or disabling all of your non-essential notifications on your phone (no, Tinder notifications are not essential) we can erase some of the noise and anxiety from our lives and be able to spend more time in the now doing things we love and doing them better. So next time you meet a friend for drinks, leave the phone in the car and see how much more enjoyable life can be.