Here’s some good news if you’ve ever felt like a failure for getting distracted and not sticking to a task: You are completely normal. The human brain is hard-wired to get distracted. When we pay attention to a shiny new thing, our brains release dopamine, which makes us feel happy. It’s easy to get distracted when we’re trying to focus because it actually feels good.
You’re not going to like this, but here goes: you must turn off or put away anything that is sending you notifications.
- If you have desktop notifications, turn them off.
- Put your phone on silent, and turn it upside down.
- And for the love of all that is holy, you must turn off any Slack, WhatsApp, Messenger, Skype, GroupMe or any other chat app service you use.
Only then can you put yourself in a position to get into the zone. You know, that elusive, ethereal, high-productivity zone. Once in the zone, you can work on a project or do some of the things you’ve learned about time management and priortization. You can go through a few cycles of the Pomodoro Technique, tackle your time boxes, whatever you want.
Messaging apps and emails cause you to respond to other people’s priorities, not your own.
You should set aside time to check your messages, just as you set aside time to focus on your other tasks. Notifications deserve your time and attention, just not all of your time and attention, and certainly not your best focus. Handle these after you’ve done the things requiring mental energy and concentration.
Notifications are the arch-nemesis of focus. There’s the initial distraction, to be sure. But it’s how all the distractions stack up that’ll get you. Every time you respond to a notification, you have to make a decision about how and when to handle it. Even ignoring a notification is a decision. That is extra decision-making on top of any decisions the message itself is requiring of you.
Are we tired yet? Yes.
Too much decision making adds up to decision fatigue: where our lack of energy and focus leads to making poor decisions. Unlike physical fatigue — which we are consciously aware of — decision fatigue often happens without us knowing.
To be productive, we must save our energy for purposeful work, so squash all the unnecessary decision that you can.
Trying to fit a big task in a small time slot is equally as frustrating.
Consider Your Task & Energy Flow
Your daily schedule should give you momentum, not take it away. But we often forget to think about our state of mind when putting things on the calendar. We allow deep-thinking, creative work to be sandwiched in between rote, automatic tasks.
That doesn’t usually go well for me.
When I think about the shift in brain gears that it takes to go from devising a new marketing strategy to filling out a time sheet or ordering lunch, I get heart palpitations.
Switching back and forth between deep & shallow tasks can take a huge toll on productivity. And it contributes to the aforementioned and to-be-avoided decision fatigue.
There are two ways you can use your daily schedule to protect your mental resources: task flow and energy flow.
Our brains take time to get into the flow of a task. But once they’re warmed up, it’s easier to keep going and stay motivated. For some, this means divising his day up and putting similar activities together. An afternoon might be dedicated just to writing, while a morning might be customer support.
There’s a reason you’re slamming through to-do list items in the late morning and can barely string together an email response by 3pm. Energy has a natural ebb and flow throughout the day, which we can use to our advantage… if we schedule it right. You know your own energy patterns better than anyone, so take them into consideration as you plan your day.