I think and write a good deal about how the benefits of deep work and planning can help your business weather a disaster. A disruption doesn’t need to be long or particularly big – small events can cause unexpected challenges to the work of a solo or micro business.
While there may be a plan in place for a specific type of large disruption such as a power or network outage or what to do if there’s a hurricane, small disruptions can often cause work to topple like dominoes – once one goes, others can cascade and cause work to halt or falter.
I finally have an idea as to why these small bumps can cause problems. Earlier this week I attended a virtual talk about a completely unrelated topic – Wind Energy. A comment made almost in passing has caused me to rethink disruptions and why they cause so many problems in the long term for solo and micro businesses.
Róisín Commane discussed a study of air pollution in the NYC metro area and some surprising findings that occurred when they looked at data before and during the pandemic lockdown. Perhaps you remember – there were comments about how the air cleaned up fast when vehicle traffic essentially stopped.
However, the data tells another story – yes, some pollution did clear up significantly in the NYC area during lockdown – however not as much as expected that can be attributed to cars and trucks. We now can prove that urban power plants and buildings also make a significant contribution.
There was another type of pollution that did clear up. Noise! Once streets were largely quiet there was a belief (later disproved by science) that air pollutants also decreased.
This shows two things that are important. First the belief that most metropolitan air pollution was created by cars. Yes it contributes, but it’s not the only cause. The second is what’s sat with me the most this week, we’re more affected by noise pollution than we realize.
Disruptions and business
How does this relate to disruptions that can derail a solo or micro business?
First, challenges aren’t always caused by the issues we expect. A business may think a specific software solution will increase sales, for example. That may solve some problems, but maybe editing the product descriptions would cause customers to actually buy.
Second, many solo and micro businesses — and now many others — work out of their homes. Many didn’t have a home office until recently. Noises at home are often completely different than those found in an office environment.
I think it’s important to be aware of this and that changes in your work environment can cause disruptions. They may be a big change — such as we all experienced at the start of lockdown. But there are also smaller disruptions that can cause a larger impact on a business.
While some disruptions are unavoidable – or your situation creates added constraints – it’s important to acknowledge they exist.
We tend to plan for big disasters — hurricanes, power outages, floods. But while we’re aware of the existence of other disruptions and have some solutions for them on a personal level, we need to think about how they can effect a business, regardless of size.
Is there a solution?
For example, it’s now leaf season a particularly challenging time to work from home because many of the neighbors’ landscapers use leaf blowers — they are definitely noise pollution. While the crews can clear a yard in about 10 minutes, they also work at other nearby houses and those minutes quickly add up. I’ve found the noise can cut through attempts to mitigate it and my focus is shattered. Ten minutes can be worked through, an hour or longer isn’t possible.
There are several options. Working through it requires the most energy and I’ve found results in work that needs to be redone due to small errors. Relocation requires the most time and effort. I’m very hesitant to do this, I’ll never forget settling into my seat at a nearby coffee shop, only for the shopping center’s landscaping crew to show up right as I sat down! Changing projects is equally disruptive but can still contribute to the feeling of productivity and the one I most often try to employ. I know that once I hear leaf blowers, they’ll probably last for a specific time. My preferred solution is to grab audiobook, headphones, shift focus to my other business, and knit.
Is this the best solution for every business? No. But I’m aware of how detrimental noise pollution is to my work and focus.
Yes, I powered through editing this post to the cacophony of leaf blowers and construction noises.
The following study focuses on NO2 pollution (not noise) and may be of interest to readers: Tzortziou, M., Kwong, C. F., Goldberg, D., Schiferl, L., Commane, R., Abuhassan, N., Szykman, J., and Valin, L.: Declines and peaks in NO2 pollution during the multiple waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in the New York metropolitan area, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss. [preprint], https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2021-592, in review, 2021.
This blog post from Zapier The Power of Silence: Why You Need Less Noise for Work and Your Health by Belle Cooper in 2017 explores how excessive noise and interruptions are harmful and silence is beneficial.