(It’s kind of like exams for me at the moment—and honestly, I always loved exams. High stakes, short duration, plenty of high jinks mixed in with the hard work. I’ll be on the other side soon enough.)
Which has gotten me really focused on the idea of being focused, and how to pop into that zone more readily so that you can get a lot of good work done without depleting yourself in the process.
Here are some things I’ve unearthed on my own and through reading Deep Work, by Cal Newport, that have helped me carve out dedicated chunks of time for work that requires a lot of that.
Consolidate your schedule. Have calls first thing in the morning and just before the end of the day, but leave the heart of the day for the good stuff; including a lunch-time walk to clear your head and build a buffer between two multi-hour blocks of concentration.
Have designated non-work times. Like, on that mid-day walk—no checking or responding to emails or having a work-related call. Call a friend, listen to a podcast, or enjoy the quiet. The more you need time to get focused work done, the more you need times when you don’t. Don’t just wait for those times to happen—figure out when they’re going to be beforehand and then honor them.
Call an end to the work day. At some point, declare that you are done. Preferably at least 30 minutes before you get in bed so you can do some winding down beforehand.
Manage availability and expectations. I have been using the Self Control app, where you can block access to certain websites which is helping me wean myself from my habit of popping over to Facebook to check in after I write a few sentences. It’s not easy! But that dependency on distraction is changing. Also, I haven’t gotten one yet but there are apps where you can do a similar thing by putting your phone into airplane mode for a certain number of minutes. That should help not me not get distracted by texts.
Also, let people know that you’re letting your inbox languish a bit and to not expect a return. You can update your signature file to say as much, or set an autoresponder, or just explain when you finally do write back (if you do) why it was a longer time than might be expected.
Check email less. Check email less. Check email less. Check email less. Check email less. Check email less.
Don’t freak out when things take longer. If you’re trying to motor but don’t hit your goal, challenge yourself to be OK with that and stay focused on your long-term goal and not so much on the timing of the steps along the way. When you take a long-term view, there’s a lot more leeway. So long as you get there, who cares when all the individual steps happened?
Did I mention check email less? No, seriously.
If you’ve got focus-gathering and/or distraction-wrangling tips to share I’d love to hear ‘em! Leave a comment below. I probably won’t respond back, but I will absolutely read them. During the much fewer times a day when I check my email. Which will not be on a mid-day walk. =)