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8 Ways to Increase Your Personal Signal to Noise Ratio.

sinewave.jpgSometimes it seems the whole world is trying to fill our lives with garbage: junk mail, telemarketing, people begging for favors with no intention of reciprocating, and mindless solicitations of all kinds.

Just the other day, a vinyl siding salesman knocked on my door while my wife and I were having an important conversation about money. I can’t afford vinyl siding (or I probably wouldn’t have been discussing cashflow with my wife in the first place), but that didn’t stop the guy on my porch from trying to sell me some.

“Your siding looks in good shape, but a few of your neighbors are thinking about upgrading their color scheme,” he said.

Every time one of these guys shows up, he tells me all the stuff my neighbors are doing. An attempt to inspire jealousy? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Hey, everybody has to work — I understand. But the problem with solicitation is that it sometimes makes it hard to concentrate on what’s important. A couple of years ago, before I started getting life’s spam-fest under control, I estimate I was losing 2 or 3 hours a week to this kind of stuff.

I like to think of the important stuff in life as “signal” and the unwanted junk as “noise.” When we think of it this way, a high signal-to-noise ratio becomes paramount.

In a perfect world, you would have a magic noise filter, and the signal of your life would be pure (and might look something like this, if you allow me the latitude of a creative visual aid):


Unfortunately, the signal-to-noise ratio at one point in my life was so low that the signal was no longer visible (as seen in the handy-dandy visualization below):


A very low signal-to-noise ratio makes it impossible to make decisions, since critical information is lost. It also makes it difficult to set and achieve goals, since so much time is wasted sorting through junk.

I have finally found the sweet spot between the unobtainable perfect signal and the counterproductive lost signal.

Since the best way to reduce noise is to stop it from appearing in the first place, here are 8 preemptive strategies that helped me clear away the clutter:

  • Stop Junk Mail: The average person receives 41 pounds of junk mail per year. That’s a lot of noise! Ask offending companies to stop sending it. Unsolicited credit card applications (a pet peeve of mine) can be greatly reduced by calling 1-888-5OPTOUT and telling all four major U.S. credit bureaus to remove you from their marketing lists.
  • Sort Incoming Mail: If any junk mail makes it past your first line of defense and into your home, pitch it ASAP.
  • Stop Telemarketers: Within a few months of adding my home phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry, the number of sales calls I received dropped from 10 per day down to zero. You can add your number to the list here: National Do Not Call Registry.
  • Filter Phone Calls: Instead of answering your phone every time it rings,  use caller ID and voice-mail as a screen and return calls in your own time, on your own terms.  
  • Filter Email: Turn on your spam filters. If you’re using Outlook or another flexible application, set up rules to route mail from time-sensitive addresses into a special folder for quick review.  Opt-out of electronic subscriptions you no longer want.  Never respond to unsolicited junk mail because spammers use your response to verify your address.  
  • Learn to Say No: If people take you for granted with numerous requests for favors (and an unwillingness to reciprocate), learn to say no. People have no choice but to honor firm boundaries.
  • Handle Salesmen Curtly: When some guy shows up at your front door hawking vinyl siding, religion, or whatever, handle him quickly and decisively. If you’re not interested, tell him so. We think we’re being polite by letting him rattle on for 5 minutes about his product, when in reality we’re wasting his time and ours.
  • Engage Your Personal Noise Filter: Continually ask yourself if what you’re doing at the moment is adding value to your life (signal) or wasting time (noise). Don’t confuse recreation with noise. We need recreation.

In my opinion, the first tip alone is enough to justify this list, since calling 1-888-5OPTOUT is something few people know about, and it literally takes less than 5 minutes to stop all those annoying credit card applications from cluttering your mailbox.

With the help of these 8 tips, you can increase the signal-to-noise ratio in your life so you can focus on what’s important to you. Although a perfect signal-to-noise ratio is unobtainable, you’re doing well if you can get to a place where your signal is visible, and your noise manageable:



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