In 1971, renowned social scientist Herbert Simon observed, “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
I’ve seen many different proposals for how to preserve focused work in a hectic schedule. Of these many proposed tactics, one stands out, in my experience, as being unusually effective. I call this the focus block method, and it works, ironically, by turning the machinery of the distraction culture against itself.
The focus block method leverages the well-understood concept of a pre-scheduled appointment. It has you block off a substantial chunk of time, most days of the week, for applying sustained focus to your most important creative tasks. This scheduling usually happens at the beginning of a new week or at the end of the previous week. The key twist is that you mark this time on your calendar like any other meeting. This is especially important if your organization uses a shared calendar system.
Blocking off time for uninterrupted focus, however, is only half the battle. The other half is resisting distraction. This means: no e-mail, no Internet, and no phone.
Start with small blocks of focused time and then gradually work yourself up to longer durations.
A good rule of thumb is to begin with an hour at a time, then add fifteen minutes to each session every two weeks. The key, however, is to never allow distraction. If you give in and quickly check Facebook, cancel the whole block and try again later. Your mind can never come to believe that even a little bit of distraction is okay during these blocks.
Tackle a clearly identified and isolated task. If you have to write an article, for example, do the research ahead of time, so that when you get to your focus block you can put your word processor in fullscreen mode and turn your entire attention to your prose.
Consider using a different location for these blocks. Move to a different room, or a library, or even a quiet place outside to perform your focused work.
When possible, do your work with pen and paper to avoid even the possibility of online distraction.
Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series) by Jocelyn K. Glei
“We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.
— Charles T. Munger”
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