August 22, 2012

You Don't Need More Time, You Need Uninterrupted Focus

Single-tasking
Twenty years ago, likely, you were desperate for more time.  Managing it was the key to success. 

Time was the scarce resource of the uber successful and the harried executive.  Today, we have more time than ever, aided by myriad tools and software solutions.  We can move mountains in days, aided by digital devices and software that "eats the world." 

Here's the rub: The same tools that make life faster (smart phones, web, social, search, etc.) are also interrupting us constantly, requiring more time to finish our work! On top of that, in our modern culture, people think it's OK to ping us any time they want via messenger or text, expecting us to drop everything and answer them. 

Not only is this a killer of our focus (quality) and productivity (output), a study I participated in a few years ago says this will cause depression.  The technical term for depression by constant interruption, according to Heartmath researchers, is "decision shift."  

Making this worse, best selling books now declare that attention is the scarce resource.  Most of them are focused on how we as companies or marketers can get others to give us their undivided attention.  None of them talk about how we can take back undivided attention to apply to our work. In fact, this obsession with getting people to pay attention to us, leads to a tendency for us to steal it from them whenever we can. 

On Monday, I turned in my latest book, a short eBook on social media I created for a major bank to support my speaking tour for them.  It was hard to finish it in sixty days, and the only way I could do it was to manage my attention aggressively.  I interviewed experts, wrote, edited and copy proofed the book  in my basement music studio with the door shut and the phone disconnected. 

I left my smart phone upstairs, instructing my team to back off while I worked on this project.  I only used my computer for word processing and fact checking/link lookups.  No email, no social media. The experience was nothing short of liberating.  I took back my life, and turned in a book I can be proud of.  

I believe that in the modern era, most of us are hamstrung by our devices, and the associates in our life clammoring for our attention.  It's as if we are running the race of life with heavy leg weights on. It's a miracle we finish anything, and when we do, the quality suffers from our divided focus.  We lack the freedom to focus our entire being on a single project.  

It's not just our friends that kill off our focus, we do it compulsively: Check email every few minutes, check reactions to our last social media update, check the blogs, check-check-check.  It's like a little digital smoke break, except we are the equivalent of a chain smoker.  

Here's my suggestion for you: Try a focus break tomorrow, just one hour of single-tasking.  Wall out the world and focus on the work in front of you.  Try it for a report or a presentation that's due. Turn off all alerts, be they email or your smart phone.

If you are in a meeting, go device free, shut the door and put blinders on to narrow you view to the person in front of you.  Don't even take an iPad to take notes, use pen and paper. 

You'll be liberated too.  And, when you look at what you accomplished during the focus break, you'll become jealous of your attention.  Like your father was jealous of his time. 

Posted at 10:26 AM in Business Effectiveness , Time Management  |  Permalink  |  Comments (11)  |  TrackBack (0)

Comments

Commentor

These included the conflict between the need to achieve discipline, and the advantages of 'student centred' learning, the bad practice of 'spoon feeding' on the one hand, and the desirability of obliging children to imbibe from the deep well of the classics. Taking a stand against this kind of thinking is good self-management that safeguards your own mental health and your relationship..

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Commentor

Great read Tim. I've noticed my level of productivity is falling fast these days. To counteract this, I've been creating isolated zones for bursts of creativity. I've basically realized I can't expect 8 hours of creative productivity. Rather, I'll focus on 3 to 4 1-hour bursts of creativity per day. iPhone goes off, Twitter closed. Collaboration is great for spurring an idea, but terrible for making the idea happen!


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