Carve Out Some Focus Time

Problem:

You’re constantly bombarded with interruptions, requests, action items, meetings, phone calls, emails, etc. that you can hardly get any one thing done.

Solution:

Don’t be.  In other words, choose not to.

There are two types of interruptions, 1) by someone else, called an interruption, and 2) by your self, called a distraction.

Distractions may still be difficult to overcome, but ultimately they are caused by your own choice.  Just yesterday I asked my daughter to go do something, and 15 minutes later I find her standing there watching TV.  “What happened?” I asked. “Someone turned on the TV” was her reply, implying that obviously it wasn’t her fault that she didn’t do the thing I asked.  How many times do we put the blame on others or on our circumstances rather than our own choice?  “Someone sent me an email.”

What I am suggesting is that emails and phone calls (and texts and IMs) are signals that someone is requesting to communicate with us.  To actually make the communication happen, it is still our choice to respond to that signal.  It is a distraction that is begging us to pay attention to it.

An interruption is when someone actually approaches our physical body, taps us on the shoulder, or makes an audible request for a response.  And there are ways to handle this interaction respectfully, that I’ll mention later.

You may think yourself rude or unresponsive if you do not respond to those digital signals immediately (or that others will think that of you.)  But are there times when it is normally acceptable to not receive an immediate response?  Do you sleep?  Do you go to the bathroom?  Do you attend important meetings where you are heavily engaged?

When people want to get a hold of you, many times they can’t because you are otherwise occupied.  What I am suggesting is that you can have more focus time to complete your most important tasks by just creating more of those ‘otherwise occupied’ times for yourself.

Carve out Some Focus Time

Here’s what you can choose to do.  Schedule a private meeting on your calendar for one or two hours (or whatever you need, no one needs to know what it’s for.)  Turn off your phone, email, web browser, IM, or whatever else could send you a distracting signal.  Some people call this, “going off the grid” which usually means you’re hiking in the mountains somewhere, but you really can create this same effect in your office, wires and batteries can be unplugged or turned off.  If you’re not a virual worker, you’re still susceptable to those in person interruptions.  Minimize those with a sign or signal that in essence says “Do Not Disturb.”  If they ignore the sign, respond to them respectfully, and get the information you need to answer their request later (let them know when you’ll get back to them.)

Set a goal for what you want to have done within that time frame, and then focus and finish.  It might be hard at first (it still is for me) but with practice and discipline you’ll be able to get better at it and go for longer periods.  You’ll feel so good about yourself because you were able to accomplish that really important task, and all the action you missed while you were disconnected will seem miniscule.  Besides, when you emerge from your cave of productivity you’ll be able to answer all those email and phone call requests (or at least put those actions in their proper place in your priority list.)  If you crave attention and love responding to all those emails, it’ll be like Christmas, the longer you wait, the more presents you’ll get to open.

“Where were you?” people might say.  And at least for one of them you can respond, “I was working on your item and it is now complete.”

I promise you’ll get more accomplished.  It’s mathematically proven.

(Inspired by my productive friend, Bodo.)

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Rex, completely unrelated to this post but you are sure interested in a lot of things that I have been reading about lately. Recently started reading Seth Godin very interesting stuff. Anyways we should talk sometime

    Reply

  2. As a databases developer, I have been trying for years to avoid business phone calls on my mobile phone.

    The kind of interruption that can really be problematic when you are writing, programing.

    I must admit that it’s really difficult to explain to the clients or prospects.

    Reply

    • Posted by rex on Tuesday at 10:47 pm

      Yes, I think most software engineers, and the like, follow this practice because their work requires such concentration. But really, any work can require concentration if you choose to concentrate and focus on it. That may be a skill the younger generation is lacking.

      Reply

  3. Aww… too kind of you, Rex. But yes, I do make appointments with myself (I can only guess who told you this) and it works really well. I also turn off all the bells and whistles that come, for instance, with Outlook to notify me of incoming e-mail. It’s indeed easy to get distracted. I consider it both a privilege and manifestation of freedom NOT to be available 24/7 and I feel sorry for all the poor Crackberry addicts who frantically check for messages every two minutes. Somebody needs to tell them the world won’t end if they don’t.

    Reply

    • Posted by rex on Tuesday at 9:23 pm

      I knew you might be the kind of guy who could focus, Bodo.

      No one specific actually told me about this concept, I’ve read about it and heard it from multiple sources, and it’s actually one of the principles of a big initiative we’re trying to push at my company, believe it or not. Yeah, it seems obvious, but it’s not common practice.

      Reply

  4. […] must have slipped him one of my secret productivity improvement techniques Here is the link: https://grootship.com/2010/04/26/carve-out-some-focus-time/ Congratulations to Rex also on using an ancient German naval term, “Orbit” and “Hairball” […]

    Reply

    • Posted by rex on Wednesday at 11:47 pm

      Thanks for the link love, Bodo. My highest traffic day so far.

      Friends of friends are friends of mine.

      Reply

      • Ha – I didn’t even know I have such awesome superpowers. Let me revisit that whole “conquer the world” thing again…

  5. […] Put the task – and this is key, only one or two at the most – that you are currently working on under the WIP column.  It is important to stay focused on one item at a time until it is complete.  We think we can work on multiple things at once but all we’re really doing is bad multi-tasking, switching from one thing to another, which causes everything we do to take longer. (See previous post, Carve out Some Focus Time.) […]

    Reply

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