Fighting cognitive noise

Noise makes it hard to get stuff done

Ed Orozco
5 min readMar 18, 2023

We need every bit of focus in order to produce great work. Yet we are surrounded by an army of distractions robbing us of our precious mental energy.

From notifications to busy interfaces, it’s never been harder to tune out the noise and focus.

Here are some tactics that I’ve discovered over the years that you might want to try for yourself.

Use a minimalist wallpaper

This one might feel extreme for some but I’ve started using solid colors as desktop wallpapers and it’s been going great.

Intricate patterns with lots of colors do have an influence on your perception and when it comes to reducing noise, visual noise cannot be ignored.

Clean up your desktop

To boost your focus, it’s a good idea to minimize all other apps

Shortcut to hide all other windows: Cmd Option H

This will help you focus on the one app that you’re using at the moment.

Need to work with 2 apps? I place them side by side using a simple free little app called Spectacle.

I also make a conscious effort to keep my desktop tidy.

I place files where they belong, delete screenshots I don’t need, and drop everything else into a folder called literally “Desktop Folder” which also syncs across devices.

When I have a bunch of files for a project I’m working on, I put them inside a folder and drag them into the Dock. This creates an “alias” or shortcut to that folder which can live inside my desktop folder so it doesn’t take up space on my actual desktop.

Close other Chrome tabs

Having multiple windows and apps open at the same time, not only takes up space in your monitor, but also in your mind.

I cringe when I see folks with 50+ Chrome tabs open.

It’s incredibly distracting.

How often do you go back to those tabs? If you close them, you can always use Chrome’s search bar to search for and open previously visited sites. There’s really no reason to keep them open.

I usually try to keep no more than 5–7 tabs max. and close everything else.

When I really need to focus, I use a custom shortcut to close all other Chrome tabs.

  • Place the cursor in the omnibar Cmd L
  • Type a few keywords related to the accidentally closed tab, it should come up as one of the suggested results
  • If it’s really important, pin it.

Swiping all of them at once is liberating. You’ll realize that most of those tabs were noise. If there was something really important you need to get back to, you can use Chrome’s history:

Write down what you want to say

Let’s say you come up with a great idea on the fly that you don’t want to forget. Or you want to address a few points in an ongoing discussion but it isn’t your turn to speak yet.

Write it down.

If you trust your memory you’ll realize it’s exponentially harder to continue paying attention to what’s being said.

Hit Cmd N to open a new note in Apple Notes and start typing. Drop a screenshot or a link if needed.

This works just as well for what I like to call Ideas for immediate action

Keep a physical pen and paper on your desk

As a supplement to Apple Notes, I always keep sticky notes, a sharpie, a notebook, and some pens on my desk.

Sometimes you just need to write by hand.

A close up of a desk with a keyboard, a notebook and a pen. — Jeffrey Betts, Unsplash
Source: Unsplash

Keep today’s priority visible at all times

Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, authors of Make Time, recommend pasting a sticky note somewhere visible on your desk as a reminder of your day’s priority.

They call it “today’s highlight”

If you’re not big on wasting paper, you can also use their phone app.

I use Cron to show my day’s highlight in my Mac’s menu bar.

Today is a Saturday so bouldering is my priority for the day

Bypass Spotify and YouTube’s home page

Streaming services have very noisy and distracting landing pages which use some of the most advanced algorithms in the world to capture your attention.

You can’t fight that fight every time you need music.

Create a “focus” playlist or find one you enjoy and bookmark it to your browser.

Sign out of social media

Having to log in every time will make you think twice about wasting your time in it.

Set your phone to airplane mode

You can also silence it and put it face down. The sole fact of not seeing the screen light up will work great to keep distracting notifications at bay.

Know any other tactics? Shoot me a message at and I’ll include them here with a link to your social media or website.

Cheers ✌️

Originally published at on March 18, 2023.



Ed Orozco

Sharing a decade of experience designing technical products.