Working without distraction

The dog woke me up unusually early to go out and handle his business.

Fortunately, I forgot how much I like the quiet hours of the morning.

I made some tea, put on morning tunes, and curled up on the sofa with the dog, a notebook, and a pen.

I wanted to get words on the page before I became tainted by the internet.

Before the news cycle made its way into my brain space. Which, honestly, is typically first thing in the morning. It’s become so easy to wake up and check all the digital streams, I do it almost daily. This saddens me, as I used to be so adamant about letting my body and mind rise and wake free of outside noise and distraction. But it’s addicting, I guess. Especially with the news cycle being what it is today: “who lost their job?” “What crazy shit did he say/do now?” “What happened somewhere in the world that I need to know about?”.

This news will always be there, since a) we have the tech and b) news companies (and tech companies) need our eyeballs and engagement, but it’s up to us—the individual—to choose how and when we engage and consume. We should be the ones setting the terms for when we, the people, offer up our attention and brain space to others.

Our mind is our most powerful resource, yet we so easily give it away to others: media companies, tech products, other people’s needs via messages, emails, and communications.

It’s fine to share personal resources, but only if it’s done on our terms and not those of for-profit corporations seeking to always increase shareholder value, or other people looking out for themselves and not even thinking about your focus and attention. We should call the shots when it comes to our attention and mindshare, yet too often we give it away for free, almost recklessly, to any product/company/stream that has figured out how to supply our brains with a quick hit of dopamine.

And we operate the same way in our offices.

We work based on other people’s needs, on other people’s timing, and in response to other people’s requests, instead of taking care of our core needs and responsibilities first, and then looking outward to help others and fulfill their requests.

Most people, teams, and organizations think that because someone requested something—in an email or IM or project management tool — that it must get done to appease their needs, and often, right away. The problem is, this directly prohibits us from getting into our zones and doing the work that is most important and intuitive to us. It is noise, not signal.

And luckily, the fix is easy: block time to get your work done first. Or remove visibility into your shared calendar so people can’t book your time without your consent. Or tell people “no, for now” and explain you need to focus on your priority before getting involved elsewhere. And then turn off notifications. For Slack, email, IM—everything. Nothing should have the power to interrupt your attention and focus other than you or a true emergency. And in that case, your phone will ring. People don’t email “EMERGENCY!!!!”

Modern work is all about resource management, interaction, network effects, and information access. Luckily, the latter can be solved with various knowledge management tools. For resources, things like your time and attention are (mostly) in your control, so you have (or need to gain) the freedom and autonomy (i.e. trust) necessary to do your best work while also collaborating and interacting with others as required. This all takes work and energy, but all starts with intention. You must decide to take control of your time, attention, and energy, and perhaps make it known among the people you often work closely with.

Transparency, visibility, and trust. Necessary elements for people to work best together.

At work, just like in outside of it, managing your time is essential to your success. While there is no one proper way to do this, the most important parts are that a) you put intention and focus into how and when you get work done, and b) you share this with others, so you are supported to do your best work. You may even inspire others to do the same. Which only helps us all.

Just because we can instant message someone and grab their attention immediately does not mean we should.

It’s time to be thoughtful about how we work, both by ourselves and in collaboration with others.

It’s time to start working with intention, before we all lose our ability to focus, forever.