The following is an extract from my popular ebook, Guidelines.
Dealing with distractions is one of the most common issues I hear people talk about when it comes to productivity. Especially if you work in an office environment, you’re almost guaranteed to have your work disrupted by someone or something in the office hijacking your attention. On top of that, finding time to focus in between meetings, phone calls, email exchanges, instant messages and other distractions is almost impossible.
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Often people feel productive when they fill their day with these seemingly important activities. In reality, the magic only happens when you have an opportunity to focus and produce high-quality work (not when you’re sending emails).
In their book, Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson make a great comparison between focusing while you’re working and REM sleep:
“Getting into that zone takes time and requires avoiding interruptions. It’s like REM sleep: You don’t just go directly into REM sleep. You go to sleep first and then make your way to REM. Any interruptions force you to start over. And just as REM is when the real sleep magic happens, the alone zone is where the real productivity magic happens.”
So, how do you get into this zone? How do you eliminate the distractions and create the perfect environment to do your focussed work?
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work talks about the importance of making deep work part of your routine:
“The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”
To make it part of your routine, you can schedule time for deep work in your calendar. Set aside a few hours each morning, when energy levels are higher, when you can separate yourself from others and focus on your most important and high-energy tasks.
Newport has also come up with this brilliant formula for reminding us how to get into a deep work state:High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)Click To Tweet
In Manage Your Day to Day, Christian Jarrett makes an interesting observation about the need to physically remove distractions so there are no temptations to grab your attention:
“Kill the background noise; turn off your phone, e-mail, and any apps unrelated to your task. Even the presence of background activity (and temptation) can drain your focus. Even if you’re not using the Internet, because it’s there it requires willpower to ignore it, which reduces our mental power. i.e. Ignoring distractions isn’t enough, we have to remove them. Tackle the projects that require “hard focus” early in your day. Self-control—and our ability to resist distractions—declines as the day goes on.”
Often, getting into the zone and eliminating distractions requires that you change your environment all together. As you become accustomed to focussing in this new environment, you will be able to get into the zone of focussed work faster.
The key is to make focussed work part of your daily routine and to develop a habit of finding the time and space to get into this zone. As you do, you’ll come to cherish this time as you start to produce your best work in these deep work states.