Ten Steps to Improve the Signal to Noise Ratio in Your Life
July 15, 2021
By Dave Bushy
Did you ever stop to recognize that we are all bombarded with
“noise,” be it in the form of sound or motion or the endless pressure of the
workplace, robbing us of the time we need to collect our thoughts, take a deep
breath and perhaps even have the chance to innovate?
Working with busy clients, I find the new normal to be one of
near-constant interruption and a resultant inability to spend time in
reflection – and real deep thinking. One
executive, who was trained as an electrical engineer, put it simply: “The
signal to noise ratio is unacceptable in today’s workplace.”
Signal to noise is technically the ratio of the strength of
any signal carrying information to that of the interference that is present
while trying to discern that signal.
While it is generally expressed in decibels, it has come to be used in
any number of fields, including WiFi networks.
There are a significant library of equations describing it.
What my client referred to, however, was the ratio of useful
information – the actual “signal” – we receive vs. the overload of “noise” that
is endlessly transmitted our way. We effectively lose the “signal” due to the
Our workplace has been transfigured in a little over thirty
years. In the late 1980’s an “in” box
and “out” box sat on each desk and letters and reports were drafted by hand or
on typewriters. Back then, a phone call
could interrupt us, but it was not forced upon us, especially if there was a
savvy secretary sitting in the outer office running interference.
Fast forward to today, as emails pile up on our computer
screens, chat boxes populate on top of them, and our personal devices hum with
personal and professional texts. Often,
we use streaming music to try to drown out the cacophony. And even then the inevitable mandatory video
conference invitations (ironic that they are called invitations, isn’t it? Perhaps “mandates” would be more appropriate). Some clients lament that of 40 hours at work
(virtual or in the office), all of those hours is scheduled in video or
What can we do as leaders to mitigate the “noise” in our
lives or at least take some initial steps?
The first step, of course, is awareness that there is an issue. By naming it, we can begin addressing
it. It might serve leaders to consider
the following list, or to develop their own.
Try a few of these ideas – they have worked for many of our clients and
can effectively help you hear the “signal” better and indeed reduce the
Multi-Tasking – Concede that “effective” multi-tasking is a
non-sequitur. It is actually a sort of
rapid serial processing that robs us of focus and creativity and can indeed
make us less productive.
Turn off your
Email – Turn off your email for 2-3 hours each day. When you open it up again, the emails will
still be there. And do your best to
teach your colleagues that “reply all” might be the
most pernicious crime committed in the workplace.
Devices – Set the ring to “silent” on your personal device – and
then put it into a drawer if you can. It
won’t be afraid of the dark, believe me.
Change the View – Change your
vantage point in the office or home.
Switch from one room to the other, depending on the sun or your
mood. And spend some time just looking out
Cut Down on
News – Stop listening or watching news as much as possible. A quick reading of two or three news feeds
will keep you informed about news events.
And it will do it without arousing your emotions.
Meetings – Do something innovative like set up 12-minute meetings! Yes, today’s e-calendars can accommodate that
– we just seem to default to 30-minute increments. There isn’t anything magical about 30 or
60-minute meetings, but we do often succumb to Parkinson’s Law. A
shorter meeting is crisper and so often more productive.
Invitations – And don’t be afraid to challenge the meeting “invite”
list. So often people get called
together as the “usual suspects,” out of habit.
Asking “I’d be glad to come, but what do you think I can add?” can be a
good jolt to old habit patterns by leaders.
Agendas – So too with the agenda.
If it becomes evident prior to or even at the start of the meeting that
there are no expected deliverables or outcomes, it can save everyone’s time if
someone points that out and courageously suggests a cancellation or delay until
we all know the “why” of a meeting and the establishment of an outcome-based agenda.
Take a Coffee Break – Have a cup of coffee or tea – and just take the time to visualize the next few hours, the next day and beyond. If you need to go outside or find a quiet nook, it’s well worth the time it takes to walk there.
Disconnect and Enjoy Time with Your Loved Ones – Take time with your family and friends whenever you can. Create “device-free” zones, especially at dinner time. Be especially mindful of the times where your mind gets pulled away from loved ones and back to the office. Pausing and enjoying friendly conversation without distraction – that indeed is a signal that can recharge your batteries.
Equation from the Horiba Company – the FSD Method
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