Issue #6, Volume 1
January 21, 2021
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I’m usually pretty good about compartmentalizing in ways that let me focus on my work.
January 6? Not so much.
As events in the US Capitol unfolded, I found myself watching live news feeds (something I haven’t done in years), while simultaneously scrolling Twitter and Facebook.
That was on Wednesday. Thursday I was mostly working normally, although with a few additional social media breaks, but Friday I found myself completely unable to concentrate on anything I should have been doing.
So today I picked up a copy of Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.
Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University, and a bestselling author. He’s learned to focus on working without interruption for long periods of tim’e, which makes him extraordinarily productive.
In his book, he points out the disconnect between the need for knowledge workers to have the capacity for deep work, at a time when they’re pulled in many directions by technology, coworkers, friends, and family.
Once you develop the capacity for deep work, he insists, you can be hugely productive in relatively few hours. He himself rarely puts in overtime hours, and doesn’t check email in the evenings.
That sounds good to me!
Courtney Rosenfeld shares a strategy that can free you up to do your best deep work: hire a freelance professional to take on some of the important tasks that would pull you away from what you should be focusing on.
Besides taking on tasks that someone else could do faster and better, there’s another big culprit that keeps us from focusing and doing deep work.
The myth of multitasking
He points out that:
As the workplace gets busier and more distracting, the ability to sit down and focus for an extended period of time will become one of the most sought-after skills of any employee.
If focusing on work is a sought-after skill of an employee, imagine how much it will benefit you as you build your own business!
Take a break already
One of the keys to doing deep work is taking breaks.
I admit, this is something I’ve been bad at, but I’m trying to rehabilitate myself.
Newport suggests scheduling your breaks — actually putting them on your calendar. This article explains the scheduling strategy.
Don’t go down the rabbit hole
The internet is a wonderful tool. My life, as I know it, couldn’t exist without it.
But it can also be a black hole of unfocused time.
There’s the obvious trap of scrolling social media, but even when you’re working, you can find yourself going down one rabbit hole after another. You’re reading an article that’s directly related to a task at hand — research for an article you’re writing, or a development in a new product or service — and you click an interesting link. And another. And another.
Stop that! Right now!
If you have the right tools, you can save those links for another time, and stay focused.
For work, I use Trello. I’ve added the Trello Chrome extension to my browser, so when I want to save something, I just click the extension, and tell Trello the exact Board and List I want to add it to. (If you’d like to know how I make use of Trello day in and day out, I’m happy to share! Just hit reply to this email!)
Apps and Strategies to Help You Focus
The Pomodoro technique is a popular strategy to help you work with assigned time periods for focus and for breaks.
At its most basic, you plan 25 minutes of focus, then a 5-minute break. To help you with it, there are apps you can install.
My friend Heather Robson, who’s the Managing Editor of Wealthy Web Writer, also sets an intention before each focused work session. She takes just a minute to think about what she plans to accomplish, and makes a deal with herself that during that time, she’ll either work on the project or do nothing.
It works surprisingly well, but if you think you might be tempted to just take a quick peek at Facebook or your email, you can get help from another type of app. Focusing apps essentially lock you out of social media and other distracting sites for a specified length of time.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my break!
Have you listened to The Anywhereist Podcast yet? Here’s one of my favorite episodes, where my co-host Kitty and I talked about working from home. We recorded it in the summer of 2019, long before the pandemic forced people out of their corporate offices.
It includes a downloadable tool for you to print out and use to help you be more productive during your work-at-home workday.
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