You can do more, accomplish more. No matter how busy you are, there is always a way. A way to become better at doing what is most important, a way to winnow out more of the chaff, focus more on the wheat, a way to eliminate distractions. I can feel it already… a disturbance in the force. People are getting mad at me, saying I just don’t understand, that they are already working as hard as they can, going as fast as it is humanly possible to go, that this is easy for me to say because I’m the boss man.
Well, there is a gem of truth in that but not the way you think. I’m where I am, owner, chair of the board, because I know how to Hyper-Focus, how to work with laser intensity on my Desired Results, how to get to Flow and stay there. I know how to make EVERY moment count and “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run.” I know there is a BIG difference between being busy and being productive. Equally important, I know how set goals that motivate and inspire me. I know how to create Action Plans that propel me forward and perhaps most important of all, I know how to step back, go to the mountain top and periodically evaluate my progress. Next, I get feedback and coaching, improve the process, make sure I’m not only moving forward but doing so in the direction that truly serves my higher self and contributes.
I used to do that 60 or 70 hours per week, no hyperbole or exaggeration. My one word to describe myself was “Driven” and my working mottos were “Frequently Pleased, Never Satisfied’ together with “All I want is what is mine and what is next to it.” This brought me to where I wanted to be and I’m happy with that place. However, quite frankly, I’m coasting now (semi-retired at 66 years young) and at peace with that. I probably only put in 20 or 30 hours of “Hyper-Focus” per week, plus maybe another 20 or so hours of normal work. My joke is that I’m retired and I refuse to work more than 40 (okay, 50) hours per week.
But I never kid myself. I know what real work is and I know what it takes to reach for Olympic gold medal level results.
“Busyness — at work and at home — is seen as a kind of status symbol. But this busyness is often a guise for something else: We procrastinate by doing mindless, distracting tasks that make us feel productive, but in reality accomplish little.” – – Chris Bailey;“Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction”
This Blog was inspired by Chris Bailey’s column in the 8/25/18 print version of the New York Times, reproduced below along with link.
Distracted? Work Harder!
When it comes to focusing at work, there is no shortage of scapegoats to blame for our wandering minds. Social media, the ever-churning news cycle, chats with colleagues — these distractions can lead to a working state of mind that is far from focused. But there’s one possible cause of frequent distraction we don’t often consider: Our work isn’t complex enough, and there isn’t enough of it.
This idea isn’t a popular one, especially with those who feel they’re already working at capacity. That’s a growing number of us these days, when busyness — at work and at home — is seen as a kind of status symbol. But this busyness is often a guise for something else: We procrastinate by doing mindless, distracting tasks that make us feel productive, but in reality accomplish little.
Can you change this innate human behavior? Yes, but you may need to take on more work, and work on stuff that’s a little harder.
Complex tasks demand more of our working memory and attention, meaning we have less mental capacity remaining to wander to the nearest stimulating distraction. In his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues that we’re most likely to enter into that state of total work immersion when the challenge of completing a task is roughly equal to our ability to complete it. We get bored when our skills greatly exceed the demands of our work — such as when we do mindless data entry for several hours. And we feel anxious when the demands of a task exceed our skills — as when we’re unprepared to give a presentation. Understanding your skill level and skill set, and pairing those abilities with a worthy task, will make you more likely to be fully engaged in your work.
Consciously taking on a greater number of complex projects is a powerful way to enter a mental state I call hyperfocus — an attentional mode in which one task consumes your complete attention. Your mind wanders less often in hyperfocus because you’re more engaged. That means you’re also more productive.
Besides questioning the complexity of individual tasks, it’s worth reflecting on whether you have enough work to do in general. If not, you’re inviting distraction.
Think back to your last tight deadline. Did that timeline offer the luxury of tending to unproductive distractions like scanning the news and refreshing Twitter? Probably not. Yet, on nondeadline days, it can feel impossible to focus on the task at hand.
In productivity circles, this phenomenon is known as Parkinson’s law. The idea is that our workload tends to expand to fit the time available for its completion. Small tasks that should take two hours to complete will take an entire workday if we have that time available. Distractions are to blame for this time trap.
The research surrounding attention suggests that our minds are biologically wired to focus on anything that’s novel, pleasurable or threatening — and distractions can be an enticing cocktail of all three. This is one of the reasons I recommend taming distractions in advance, and there are many tactics and tools to help you do this: downloading a distraction-blocking application for your computer, putting your phone in Do Not Disturb mode or just leaving it in another room can help.
Once we’ve removed distractions, we’re forced to face our work — and it’s often only then that we discover how much, or how little, we truly have on our plate. One hour spent hyperfocusing distraction-free can be worth an entire afternoon of distracted work.
Since I am a productivity expert, some assume I’ve mastered distraction. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A few years ago, I finished writing an 80,000-word manuscript on a tight deadline. But after I handed it in, I continued to be just as busy, even though I had substantially less work. My remaining projects expanded to fit the time I had available. I logged into my social media accounts when I should have been working. I checked new emails constantly. And I agreed to attend meetings I didn’t need to be a part of in the first place. I felt guilty when I wasn’t busy, and I alleviated this guilt by filling my time with busywork.
Later I realized this guilt came from the fact that I was working without intent. Intention is the key to productivity — when we have more to do than time to do it in, choosing what we do ahead of time becomes essential. Once I’d tamed the busywork, I realized there was still space for meaningful work, and I took on more complex tasks, including thinking about the book that inspired this article.
Here’s an exercise: Take a few days to assess roughly how much of your time you spend on unproductive busywork, and how difficult it is to become engaged in individual projects. At the same time, reflect on your energy levels. Busywork can be a sign you need a rest; when your mental stamina is low, your mind gravitates to the easiest thing on your plate.
But if you’re still falling victim to distraction, consider the possibility that you might need to work harder — and smarter — on projects that will both fill your days and enrich your life.
– Chris Bailey is the author of the forthcoming “Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction,” from which this essay is adapted.
As always, I share what I most want and need to learn. – Nathan S. Collier