I suddenly realized I'd been nurturing distraction over focus.
Embarrassing given my work and age.
So I decided to get back to my distraction diet and reboot my commitment to a better (focused) use of my time & attention (one of the four points to Crossing The Line).
Below are several specific things I’ve re-committed to making real. It’s been a challenge given the bad habits I’ve allowed into my day but it’s also been wonderful!
The points of focus are for my life and where I am now (writer, speaker, teammate, adult kids). I hope some of them will also be helpful to you.
My Focus Affirmations...
FOCUS HOURS: Twice each workday, I have focus hours. From 10 am – 11:30 am and from 2 pm – 4 pm, I invest my attention and effort in my work that requires my full concentration. For me, this is usually writing short books, blog posts/email, or thinking through marketing or some sort of business challenge. During this time, I’m unavailable to anything but family, team, or customer emergencies. My phones are off to anything inbound (no calls, texts, notifications, sounds, or alerts). It's only two blocks of time (3.5 hours) where I'm unavailable to others. When I think I can't do it because I’m so very important and people need to be able to reach me, I remind myself I'm not as important as I think I am. If a customer absolutely needs to talk with me during that time ... of course.
EMAIL: I have no email notifications. I give it a quick scan before the workday for anything time sensitive that may have come in overnight. Then I give it my attention three more times throughout the day (9:45 am, 1:30 pm, and 4:30 pm). When I think I should check it more because I’m so very important and people need a fast response, I remind myself I'm not as important as I think I am. If someone calls me or visits me to ask me to look at an email, I'll do it but I won't let myself look at any other emails. (Yes. This can be very tough.) See below for what I learned about how much time and focus I’ve lost when I first started limiting my email checks. Insane really.
MOBILE: Most of the time, my Do Not Disturb function is on so nothing happens when a text or call comes in. I check in on my schedule ... usually after I do my email checks or if I'm walking somewhere by myself. If I’m with people, I do my best to keep my phone out of sight and give it attention when I'm alone. When I'm in an airport by myself, I don't know a lot of people. That’s when I can dig into my phone all I want. Although, I’m careful to minimize it. I don’t want to miss out on some of those serendipitous moments I've had in the past where I've met some very interesting people and learned new things by staying awake (Smovish principle #1) and observant to my surroundings. (Sometimes it leads to something for my work and for you.)
WEB: I don’t use the web personally during my money hours* except on a well-earned break or at lunch (if I’m by myself, of course). When this gets tough because of my addiction to distraction, I remind myself that I'm a grown-up.
ENVIRONMENT: During focus hours, I work in my office facing away from the door. All other times, I make myself available to my customers, my team, and my work that requires less concentration.
BREAKS: I purposely take two or three short breaks (5 – 10 minutes) during the workday to check in on my family and the world.
PERSONALLY: Outside my money hours, I relax with family, friends, food, and all sorts of content (video, podcasts, reading). If I catch myself, mindlessly surfing the web or tv, I stop and find something more meaningful to do. I also exercise.
EXCEPTIONS: My work is diverse. I write and speak. I market and sell. I coach and develop people. As a result, several days each month I can’t stick to my schedule because I’m out traveling and speaking, sometimes in different time zones. But, I still limit my email checks to three or four a day and I make sure to minimize the attention I give the web and my mobile phone during my money hours. Even when I'm not traveling, I occasionally need to make exceptions to my affirmations because of a high-priority event or customer interaction I didn't anticipate or can't control. In these cases, I do my best to have at least 2 focus hours at some point in the day.
COMMITMENT: When things get tough, I remind myself I enjoy the positive results that come from better focus … professionally, personally, and financially. And, by doing these things, I tend to contribute more, make more useful things happen, earn more, and enjoy more as a result. When I make a mistake (break focus hours, check email, look at the web, etc.), I stop, re-commit, and remind myself I want to make good things happen for other people (and as a result, myself), rather than living in a state of busy distraction.
These points of focus are for me and my work.
If you decide to adopt a few or all of the ideas but your work requires more attention to email or a phone, adjust appropriately. (Be truthful with yourself.)
Then, let the people closest to you know that you’re making some changes to the way you use your attention … that you’re working on being more focused with your time. (Avoid condescension.) This will help them understand the reason your responses to them might be less immediate than they’ve experienced from you before. Let them know if they need you urgently, they should call you or visit you. If they don't like that idea, remind them that you love them (only slightly kidding here) and they're important to you but you’re trying to make good things happen and that requires hard work and focus (Cross The Line, right?). Maybe they'll be inspired and join you in your distraction diet and we'll all win with the work we do.
Kahlil Gibran | 1883 – 1931 | Lebanese writer
Got an idea you'd like to share? I'd love to hear it. If I think it's something everyone would benefit from, I'll send it out in another email. Just email me.
*money hours: the time of the day when I’m trying to make good things happen for other people
Checking email 3 times daily helped me see...
- My addiction to checking it.
- It became a default task (automatically checking it when returning from a discussion, meeting, trip to the bathroom, etc.).
- I sometimes used it to hide out from my more important work (e.g., "If I'm addressing email, I'm doing something. It may not be important in the long term, but at least I'm of use at this moment." Not good thinking).
- My email can wait and as the day comes to an end, I’m more productive and happier if I limit checking it (although the first several days of doing it were very uncomfortable and ironically had me distracted by my lack of distraction).
- I’m not as important as I think I am.
(The image at the top? I saw it on Interstate 95. The Virginia Department of Transportation was having a little fun 212ing a safety message. I think we need more of that and more of us driving kindly.)
Want to talk through ideas on how to use our messages and ideas with your team?
Please call us in Richmond, Virginia (804-762-4500), email us, or chat with us (lower right corner of this browser).
We're real people and we'd love to hear from you.
To reach Sam (author of this post and the books we publish), email him directly or call him at 804-762-4500 ext. 212. Want him to speak at your upcoming meeting or event?