We are all limited by the same 24 hours. Yet some manage to achieve more of their goals. Lack of sleep is not a long-term solution. Neither is neglecting your mental or physical health. It is the ability to exercise uninterrupted focus that is commonly lacking in the modern workplace and smartphone-rich environment.
Let’s take a look into the lives of Alice and Bob who both struggle to be productive in their respective environment.
Bob is working full-time. His morning starts with reading the news, followed by catching up with his e-mail inbox. He goes on a meeting over lunch. The afternoon is filled with more e-mails, meetings, and distracted multi-tasking. Soon the day is over. He has no recall of a particular accomplishment today.
Alice is currently studying. During most of the day, she’s frequently getting notifications about messages from friends. She has posted a new picture on social media that has kept her mind engaged due to the attention the post has received over the past hours. Although she planned to spend the whole day studying, she didn’t learn much due to the frequent interruptions.
Today distractions are everywhere. Social media, e-mails, easy access to an endless stream of news and content. Social media optimizes for user engagement or amount of time spent. Not being conscious of the time spent on social media, users can easily fall into the trap of the algorithms.
A study from Carleton University has shown that the average knowledge worker is going through 111 e-mails per day and spends 17 hours per week on e-mails. That’s almost half of the available weekly productive time!
distraction time * distraction sessions = distraction cost
Even more relevant than the amount of time is the number of interruptions caused by distractions. The mental context switching between e-mail / social media and work adds overhead that’s frequently neglected.
The goal of uninterrupted focus is to minimize context switching
Practicing uninterrupted focus means abandoning multitasking. As much as we would like to believe we are good at multitasking - we’re not. We’re absolutely terrible at it. And we should avoid it at all possible costs.
Deep Work by Cal Newport introduces the terminology of deep vs shallow work.
Deep work is anything that requires your full attention for an extended period of time. In Alice’s case, deep work is studying for an exam. For optimal productivity, Alice should set aside a few hours dedicated to uninterrupted studying. Notifications from messaging and social media should be suppressed during that time. This will allow her to gain momentum and learn more in less time.
Shallow work is anything that can also be performed while trying to multitask or being in a distracted state. In Bob’s case, shallow work is email, meetings, etc. For optimal productivity, Bob should avoid processing his email in real-time. Instead, he should dedicate half of the day for deep work and batch together all the shallow work for the other half. This way, he could greatly minimize the overhead that comes from task switching and enjoy a more productive time.
So how to practice uninterrupted focus?
- Minimize context switching and try to stay focused on a single task for a minimum of 25 minutes. Anything less than 25 minutes is considered shallow because the time is not sufficient to enter deep working state.
- The Pomodoro Technique is one of the most popular options to practice this in a structured way. A disadvantage of this practice is that it forces you out of the deep working state when the timer finishes.
- Clearminute’s Focus Mode has a timer that counts up and encourages focus sessions with a minimum time of 25 minutes. Unlike the Pomodoro technique, it won’t interrupt you after reaching the time.
- Staying focused requires willpower and willpower is limited. That’s why you would want to create an environment that preserves your willpower as much as possible. Minimize any surrounding distractions, turn off your phone, disable notifications and block distracting websites and apps.
- Clearminute’s Focus Mode can block distracting websites and macOS apps. It’ll also auto-disable system notifications thus effectively preventing any distractions on your computer.
- Alternatively, there is a multitude of browser extensions that can block distracting websites and help you stay focused. Install one of them.
- If that’s possible for you, try to work offline - this is probably the most effective way to prevent any internet related distractions.
- Monitor your progress. Having a measure of progress is critical to keep you motivated in the process of mastering the uninterrupted focus practice.
- If you’re on macOS, Clearminute can provide you with insightful productivity reports and trends. This is a fully automated process and doesn’t require manual input from your side, so why not give it a try?
- Similarly, if you’re on iOS, you should make use of Screen Time to monitor the time you spend on distracting apps.
- For Android, you should check out Digital Wellbeing which has been recently launched by Google and will come with Android One.
Do you have any further ideas and productivity tips that you’d like to share or perhaps want to learn more? Feel free to join our Slack community and connect with others who are committed to getting the most out of their 24 hours!