In the working world, where we’re subjected to an endless stream of information, noise such as interruptions from co-workers or breaking news alerts on our phones can be particularly dangerous. If you attend to the noise, it will hijack your motivation and decrease your focus. Learning to distinguish information from noise isn’t easy. If information coming into your brain fits just one of the following criteria, it’s almost certainly noise.
1. Unusable: Your behavior will not be altered by the information.
If the information won’t spur you to change your behavior, it’s extraneous. A tragedy in the news, for example, is terrible but completely out of your control.
2. Untimely: You are not going to use that information imminently and it could change by the time you do.
If you bought stocks you want to hold for the long run, then checking the NASDAQ every day is not only creating noise, but wasting valuable mental resources.
3. Hypothetical: It is based on what someone believes “could be” instead of “what is.”
What if you could have back all the minutes of your life you’ve spent listening to weather predictions—many of which turned out to be wrong? Dwelling on what could happen is a time waster.
4. Distracting: The noise diverts you from your goals.
If your goal is to get your work done so you can spend more time with family, watching ESPN all afternoon is noise.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.