Descending From the Kingdom of Noise
We live in a time of unprecedented noise. And I’m not just referring to the obvious increase in external noise created by nonstop news, entertainment, and the buzzing of the devices in our pockets, purses, and wrists. But all that external noise creates internal noise as well.
To redeem our time, we must fight to block out noise and create room for silence, stillness, and reflection.
I was addicted to noise from an early age. Even before smartphones (I know, dating myself), I was always consuming entertainment and information — especially the news.
But things changed when I realized I couldn’t afford to be so connected and consume so much information. It was having the opposite effect on my productivity.
I used to spend, easily, 4-5 hours on my smartphone each day, this week I’m averaging 33 minutes of daily screen time. I used to live and die with each breaking news alert, today I consume virtually zero news. No news websites. No newspapers. No podcasts. Nothing. I have almost entirely dissented from consuming noise. If my old self lived life at volume 10, the new me lives life at volume 2.
Now, let me assure you that I don’t live at volume 0. I am not going to tell you that you need to delete Instagram or get rid of your smartphone. I still own, use, and love my iPhone. I love having information my pocket. I love that I can watch Netflix on my phone if I’m stuck in an airport. And I love that I can listen to Hamilton and Taylor Swift from the back of a car that I hailed from an app on my phone.
These are good things, all made possible by the noisiest device I own. It can be vehicle for good, it also has incredible power to drown out all semblance of silence, solitude, and reflection.
What in the world does noise and the pursuit of silence have to do with time management and productivity? At least two things.
#1: Noise Limits Our Ability to Think
In any work we do today — new information and opinions come flying at you from every direction. Every time you open your email or social media feed, you see new market research, new product ideas, and four different people who believe that attending their meeting is the best use of your time. This of course makes it incredibly hard to discern and focus on what matters.
But information in and of itself isn’t bad. Information is a gift! The problem is when the information flow never stops. To discern the essential from the noise, at some point you’ve got to turn off the information and opinion firehose, get quiet, and simply think. Only in solitude can you separate the important from the unimportant and avoid getting stuck in the “thick of thin things.” Mister Rogers said it best: “Just be quiet and think. It’ll make all the difference in the world.”
If we don’t give ourselves space to think, we can’t discern the essential from the noise and prioritize our to-do lists. And if we can’t prioritize, we can’t focus on the work we believe God has called us to do.
#2 Noise Limits Our Ability to Cultivate Depth
Research shows that if we spend all of our time away from our desks filling our minds with noise, we will have a much harder time focusing on our work and “going deep” when we want to.
Of course, our lack of silence and reflection doesn’t just limit our ability to cultivate depth at work. It’s equally harmful for engaging deeply at home.
If I’ve had a day with no silence and time to think, I’ll be sitting at the dinner table, physically present with my wife and kids, but totally absent mentally. It’s because my brain has to sort through all the information I consumed during the day. Instead of focusing on my wife and kids, I’m thinking How does that project connect with this one? My lack of silence and solitude has blocked my ability to be fully present in the moment. That’s what non-stop noise does: It limits our ability to cultivate depth at work and at home, thwarting our attempts to be purposeful, present, and productive.
I put my phone to bed around 7:30 p.m. every night and keep it in its metaphorical room until 7:00 a.m. the next morning. I need significant time away from the noise and anxiety my phone produces, especially in the morning when I am spending time in God’s Word and trying to hear his voice.
If we care about our ability to cultivate time of silent reflection in the model of Jesus, we must exert more control over how much noise we allow in our lives.
Adapted from Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present, and Wildly Productive.Copyright © 2021 by Jordan Raynor. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Jordan Raynor is a serial entrepreneur and the national bestselling author of three books, including his latest, Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present, and Wildly Productive. A highly sought-after speaker on the topic of faith and work, Jordan is also host of the “Call to Mastery” podcast. He lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife and their three daughters. For more information, visit JordanRaynor.com.