The good news: we’re more connected in 2016 than ever. The bad news: we’re more connected in 2016 than ever. There’s an enormous amount of value in that connectivity, as well as an incredible threat to doing truly deep and meaningful work.
With all the connectivity that is designed to help us communicate and collaborate, the sheer number of interruptions that I experience can be astounding. There are new message notifications from Outlook, Yammer desktop notifications, Facebook and Twitter notifications, Lync, Slack, and Skype. That doesn’t even begin to count the distractions created by one’s own brain; thoughts of things I need to do, ideas for new projects and remembering that lingering chore at home. It’s time to tame the distraction beast! Here are some tips that I have implemented to improve focus. Hopefully they are helpful to you as well.
Have a goal
What does “done” look like? It’s easier to see something through to completion if you know what your goal is. Articulate the goal. Write it down. Focus on that goal and get it done.
But what if it’s not possible to finish the work in one sitting?
Set a Timer
When a task isn’t reasonable to complete in a single sitting, commit to working on it for a defined period of time. Set a timer for thirty minutes, and focus on the task until it goes off. Then, take a break.
If you’re interested in a more in-depth of timer techniques, check out The Pomodoro Technique.
This blog post has been a “draft” for a long time. I just set a 30 minute timer with the goal of clicking “Publish” before it expires!
Do not Disturb
I hate to get in a state of flow and then have my thoughts completely disrupted by a tweet notification, a mention, or notification of a new e-mail arriving in my Inbox.
When you want to have some deep focus time, tame the desktop and phone notifications. On a Mac, click the little bullet-list icon on the top-right side, and drag the sidebar down until you see the “Do Not Disturb” notification. Turn it on. Don’t forget to set your mobile device to “Do Not Disturb” mode as well.
Drown out the Distractions
With open work spaces, the nearby conversations can be very distracting. Using headphones to play music is one way to drown out the discussion can be effective, I find myself getting distracted by the lyrics. Perhaps music that lacks lyrics works for you. I’ve discussed the use of listening to classical music with some colleagues, and while I find it helpful they can sometimes get caught up in the music.
Consider using a white noise app. The white noise can mask the sound of nearby conversations with fan noise, dishwasher, or airplane noises. My personal favorite is “air conditioner. The noise doesn’t have lyrics or a tune for your brain to latch onto. Some of the apps are free, so there’s nothing to lose by trying one.
Let Your Colleagues Know your Busy
In shared spaces, it’s not always obvious whether you are deep in thought or listing in on a conference call. I found an amazing little light from Embrava. This light synchronizes its color with your availability in Lync, Skype, and more. No more will people walk up, start talking to you, and then go “Oops. Sorry. I didn’t know you were on the phone.”
You can even customize the light to fit your personality. I’ve found the a red flashing light worked best. It very much makes me think of an “on-air” light you see on TV or radio programs.
Clear the Home Screen
Even when the phone is in “do not disturb” mode, it can still grab my attention. Sometimes I want to look up a message, find a page in my internet history, or use the calculator app for some quick math. When I jump onto the iPhone I find the little red badges are a sirens song of distraction.
Take control of the badges your phone shows!
- Turn off the unnecessary badges. Do you really need to know that there are 1,406 unread e-mail messages in your Inbox?
- Clean the home screen. Minimize the apps on your first screen. Move the apps with badge notifications to the second screen. It’s not that hard to get to the second screen, and the notifications are no longer calling to you from the home screen. There’s a huge payoff to having Facebook, Twitter, and Clash of Chans notifications just one swipe away.
- Banish Notifications from the Lock Screen. Unless it’s truly a vital notification, limit the notifications that buzz and light your phone when it’s not being used.
I hope those tips are helpful.
On a related note, just happened across a summary of the book “Deep Work.” The book is being released tomorrow. Some of the suggestions I have above are complimentary to those in the summary of Deep Work that can be found at the blog post How to Manage Your Time: 5 Secrets Backed by Research.
As always, if you have some additional ideas for taming distractions in our connected world, I’d love to hear them.