If You Are Too Busy, Do You Need More Quiet Time?
By: Randy Wolken, President & CEO

If you are too busy, what you may need most is more quiet time.  Yes, you read that right.  Recent studies show that taking time for silence restores our nervous system, helps us sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the environments we now live, work, and lead within. Duke Medical School’s Imke Kirste recently found that silence is associated with the development of new cells in the hippocampus, the key brain region associated with learning and memory.  And a 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, based on a survey of 43,000 workers, concluded that the disadvantages of noise and distraction associated with open office plans outweighed anticipated, but still unproven, benefits like increasing morale and productivity boosts from unplanned interactions.

However, cultivating silence isn’t just about getting away from the distractions of the office.  Real and sustained silence, the kind that facilitates clear and creative thinking, helps quiets our inner chatter as well as our outer distractions. This kind of silence is about resting our mental reflexes that often protect or promote our point of view. It’s also about taking a temporary break from one of life’s most basic tasks – having to think of what to say next.

Cultivating silence, as Hal Gregersen writes, “increase[s] your chances of encountering novel ideas and information and discerning weak signals.” When we’re constantly fixated on the verbal agenda—what to say next, what to write next, what to do next—it’s tough to make room for truly new ideas. It’s even harder to drop into deep modes of listening and attention.   And it’s in those deeper modes of attention that truly novel ideas are discovered and acted upon.

Busy people can cultivate periods of quiet time. Here are four practical ideas that I use:

1) Taking five minutes of quiet time. I close the office door mid-day and hit reset by engaging in a silent practice of reflection.  Even five minutes can change my overall demeanor.

2) Take a silent walk outdoors. I like to take one or two 10 to 15 minute walks each day to clear my mind and get some exercise.  Both are good for me – and the others I am with each day.

3) Go on an email and media fast. I like to take a break from my email for several hours or a break from news and entertainment. While there is still plenty of noise around—family, conversation,  and other distractions—I can enjoy resting the parts of my mind associated with unending work obligations and tracking current news events.

4) Annual retreat:  A short retreat is a straightforward way to go deeper into listening and awareness. Each year I go on a silent retreat after the first of the year.  It is my annual reset that helps me refocus on my most important priorities – at work and home – in the coming year ahead.

So, if you are too busy, do you need more quiet time?


Idea and Information Source:  The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time by Justin Talbot-Zorn and Leigh Marz  in the Harvard Business Review, March 17, 2017