I consider myself to be a productive person. I have a solid command of practical routines, which allow me to manage my ambitions proactively.
So I was surprised after my yearly review, that my level of productivity had devolved. I was being reactive to the world’s demands and not proactive with my dreams.
Instead of building blocks of time to work on my goals. I spent my limited time preoccupied with emails, Twitter, Google+ and other day-to-day activities. Oh, and, of course -- squeezing in a few goals when the time permitted.
As creative people, we need to build effective routines that allow us to proactively pursue our ambitions, instead of reacting. Scott Belsky, explains that we are now in the Era of Reactionary Workflow.
"Through our constant connectivity to each other, we have become increasingly reactive to what comes to us rather than being proactive about what matters most to us."
-- Scott Belsky
If we are to truly pursue our ideas and make them happen -- we need to be deliberate in drawing the line between our ideas and the world's demands.
1. Finding Your Focus
I have spoken with many creative people about their ideas and the opportunity for making those ideas come to life.
The surprising thing about creatives is that idea generation is rarely in short supply. Unfortunately, the execution of those ideas are under constant attack, from the world's demands.
"What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention..."
When I ask about the adverse effects of constant distractions the answer is essentially universal -- distractions add very little value to solving hard problems. Making matters more complicated for the knowledge worker is that distractions are institutionalized.
We are always being asked to be available for -- email, chat, conference calls and the obligatory "open door policy."
Each of these disruptions is a cost center to the knowledge worker's productivity -- retarding the quality of work he produces.
2. Retool How It’s Done
The solution would be an administrative reform which would significantly minimize distractions. But expecting that type of transformation is unlikely. The next best solution is to focus on what we have a direct influence on -- our own habits.
The goal of building better personal habits is to maximize our ability to apply undistracted focus to those hard problems and to minimize distractions.
Professor Cal Newport calls this solution -- the focus block method. This is something that I have been experimenting with for the last few months. And it has allowed me gradually increase my undistracted focus.
I have also found that only using the focus blocks solves part of the issue. These blocks of uninterrupted time must be coupled with resistance to distractions. So this means:
- No email
- No phone
- No Internet
3. Optimize Your Time
Implementing the focus block is like adopting any new habit -- it must be introduced gradually:
- Start with small focus blocks. I started with scheduling 1-hour blocks, per weekday, on my calendar. I have gradually increased those blocks by 30 minutes over a few weeks. Today, my focus blocks are up to 2.5 hours; my goal is 3 hours.
- Address a clearly identified task. If I am writing an article, I will have most of the research completed and printed out. I use my Kindle for reference and set Evernote to fullscreen. This habit ensures that I have set myself up for the best writing experience.
- Consider moving away. When I am writing articles, I tend to be somewhere else. I will generally sit in a quiet coffee shop, a local library or on a beautiful day I will sit in the park.
The Era of Reactionary Workflow is a real problem for creative people, teams, and businesses. Being reactive to the world’s demands significantly decreases the value of work a creative can produce. The focus block method does not solve the problem, but it can be used to shield against the constant demands of the world.