Find Your Quiet Time, Office Tactics for Introverts
Inner peace in the time of noise
Hello my name is Paul and I’m a recovering introvert. I used to blush when asking somebody for a pen at school. I used be borderline terrified of hanging out with large groups of people. One time in high school I sat in a bathroom stall for all of lunch time because I needed some space.
I try not to think about things in terms of introverts vs extroverts anymore. I don’t find those definitions useful. If anything I think about it in a spectrum. Some people like quiet. Some people don’t mind noise. Some need more of one or the other. That’s about it.
For me, I found the root of my introversion to be a feeling of shyness. I would often find myself drained by extended social encounters. This resulted in me getting into my own head and thinking too much and driving me further into lala land.
I realized that I need to come out of my shell more to get over it. This doesn’t necessarily mean conversations with strangers all the time, but that is a great ability to have. I realized I needed to be OK with the simple act of putting my ideas out somewhere.
Just give myself permission to say something. Be it in a passing comment, a medium post, or an online learning course. We quiet people have things to say dammit. We’re going to say them in a polite and well edited manner.
The thing about enjoying peace and quiet is that it can lead to a self-perpetuating cycle where we never come out of our shells. Our social skills get rusty. Its all too easy for that filter, my shyness for example, to creep back in. We start surrendering.
The thing about enjoying peace and quiet is we typically can’t have it when we want it. Especially in today’s day and age where open work spaces and rooms packed with cubicles greet you with a wall of noise every morning. This lends to throwing an internal temper tantrum. I often catch myself feeling the urge to shush like a librarian towards loud noise or people interrupting me while I’m working.
Many of us don’t have the liberty of closing an office door or working from home, though it does seem the ability to work from home is becoming the norm more and more these days. For everybody else, there’s getting tactical against noise.
In my past few jobs I’ve been able to manufacture long periods of quiet time for myself to get done what Cal Newport calls Deep Work. I’ve assembled some tactics, techniques, and protocols that will help you my fellow “introverts” learn to stick it to the extroverts.
These ideas fall into some broad categories. You can completely cordon yourself off from noise. You can partially eliminate distractions. You can routinely isolate yourself from noise throughout the day, taking what I call sips of quiet time. And you can get really aggressive and structure you day entirely around getting more quiet.
I’ll start with my best, most powerful tip. If you have a good relationship with your boss and you do good quality work, you can probably work something out. Here is a pitch you can use word for word. It also depends on your schedule. There are typically meetings that can’t be escaped, but most knowledge workers could benefit from 2–4 hours of uninterrupted peace and quiet.
Here’s the pitch:
“Boss, I want you to be successful. I want my work to reflect well on you. What’s more I want to make sure I’m doing my part in all of us getting to the next level. Would you agree and say you feel the same way? Great.
Maybe you’ve noticed I enjoy my peace and quiet, I put headphones on to focus, to do quality work. (Might be a good time to remind them of some high value things you’ve done.)The thing is I actually would prefer silence. That’s when I am at my absolute best.
I would like to propose 1–2 days of remote work a week (or any of the solutions from this article.) This would further ensure my commitment to our success and I know you love winning. I will provide any reporting you need to show you that I am serious about making this work. In fact I will report too much and call you every afternoon that I am remote until you tell me to knock it off. I will provide you a full list of items that I’ve completed or have in progress. May I have your sign off?”
Its important you ask for their sign off and steer towards a decision. Its also important that you think about and prepare to gracefully accept/address their objections. Have a solution ahead of time. You may have to explain what it feels like to need peace and quiet and never be able to find it in a hectic workplace. It literally feels demoralizing sometimes.
Desk Orientation and Distraction Elimination
Remove anything that creates visual or audio distraction unless absolutely necessary. Clear the runway for your mind to run full speed. Completely mute your desktop or only allow critical notifications such as the Slack shuffle to play. Mute everything else. Strive for inbox 0 , its probably the best habit I’ve ever implemented for removing distractions.
Many times motion accompanies noise and it makes for a powerful distraction combo. If you’re in an open office or bullpen style office you may be constantly distracted by people walking by or raging nerf gun battles. In my own workspace I was able to position myself so that my 3 monitors literally act as physical blinders. I put each one on a slightly (4–6 inch) elevated stand so that I can’t see anything going on beyond the monitors. This also has the added benefit of proper ergonomics.
If you can get away with it, cardboard science fair boards make great blockers. You could even decorate it it bit. Label it your fortress of solitude and put a mail slot on it.
Finally, there are always the good old fashioned noise cancelling headphones. True they aren’t pure silence, but they’ll get the trick done. Depending on the mood I will either play music or use a white noise app. I find this spaceship white noise loop brings me incredible calm and focus.
Sips of Quiet Time
Many times in our quest for peace and quiet we become unreasonable in our thoughts. “I wish I could put a cone of silence on everyone’s head.” While this would be great, it doesn’t help us get any closer to cherished quiet time. Today I went outside for a break. I sat on my truck bed and got to inbox zero. It was only 15 minutes or so, but it was sublime.
The point is to consider “recharging” vs. craving an escape that may not be possible. It is important to recognize when you’re feeling harried and take a beat. Find a place to breathe and relax. Its incredible how 10 minutes can completely amp you for the rest of the day.
Some great quiet spots are stairwells, office gyms (do a couple bench presses), and break rooms during non-peak hours. Something I’ve done in the past is scheduled a small conference room for myself and worked on my laptop for an hour or two
Structuring the Day
These tips require a bit more work, but they are powerful when applied together. Schedule your day so you come in a few hours earlier or stay later than the office. I find the first 20 minutes of the morning to be an incredible time to write my power list. That is the 5 most important things I need to accomplish for the day. Then I have a beautiful hour and forty minutes to knock out one or two of them. You can also do this with lunch, take lunch later and work through the typical lunch hour when the office is less populated.
Plan breaks for yourself. Its very easy to forget to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling. Next thing you know its 3 o’clock and you’re stressing over a deadline. Use a schedule to remind yourself to take a short break and hit a quiet place.
Speaking of quiet, learn to Meditate. I’ve practiced meditation in some form for large parts of my life and it is much harder for me to be unnerved on days that I’ve meditated. Take this a step further and practice a martial art or do yoga in the mornings, this is a blend of meditation and exercise that will get your endorphins and your feeling of peace/flow going for the day.
It is possible to become accustomed to the noise of a hectic work environment. Many of us just don’t give it a chance because we are so set on getting that peace and quiet or die trying. I would suggest trying progressive desensitization, maybe spend an hour a day working in and fully embracing the bustle. You may find in time that its not so bothersome.
These are your teammates after all. Its the sound of work getting done. Its the sound of people giving a damn and making things happen. In a positive work environment this can be very energizing and positive attitudes are infectious. If its just Bill talking about passing his last kidney stone, maybe you should put the headphones back on.
Finding Peace is up to You
Best of luck in your quest for quiet and getting deep work done. Please share any ideas in the comments. Keep up the good fight. Shoutout to Joshua Wootonn and Aytekin Tank for inspiring this article. Check out this article from Aytekin for some great thoughts on Solitude.