This is part 5 in a series of articles entitled Too Busy for a Real Vacation? Streamline Work and Buy Time for YOU. The articles discuss habit changes and strategic projects designed to equip you to maximize your working time.
It can be really hard to shut off distractions and make room for intense periods of deep or focused work. The demands of work tasks, family errands, incoming emails and other small tasks are real, especially for the self-employed/small business owner. They can pull hard on our willpower to get the big things done. They can even fool us into thinking that they are just as important as the big stuff!
If [the little stuff wins] the battle every day, then only the little things get done, and the big stuff collects dust or remains only a dream.
If they win the battle every day, then only the little things get done, and the big stuff collects dust or remains only a dream. Trust me, I’ve been there... and at some point, I had to ask myself how long I was going to let that dream sit in the corner and collect dust. One month can quickly turn into a few months, which can turn into a year or two, and pretty soon it's been 5 or 10 years with no tangible progress.
So every day along the journey matters, and it needs to be protected. Things can happen and that's ok, but it's good to have a realistic default plan that sets you up really well for long-term progress and success.
That’s why it’s so important to make a daily schedule that gives space for all of the things you do -- and allows you to shift mental focus from one type of task to another. My last article covered two ways to remove distractions from your work-flow so that you can establish your routine.
Once you give yourself a schedule for your deep work and smaller tasks, it's time! ... GO FOR IT! don’t be afraid to be mercenary about it, both toward outside influences and yourself. Being a time mercenary enables you to keep those distractions at bay while you do meaningful work. It is a way to give yourself measurable boundaries -- a way to track your time and to keep your time balanced appropriately between all of your important tasks, whether small or big.
Be a Time Mercenary: Just Say NO
(...in the nicest possible way, of course)
Say “no” to interruptions from the outside world during scheduled intense work time will buy you more productivity in a shorter amount of time. This is where Airplane Mode or Do Not Disturb Mode can be a fantastic tool. If you’re concerned about people being able to reach you in an urgent situation, communicate ahead of time with the folks most likely to need to know how to reach you. Most people will respect your need for space and probably won’t even notice if you disappear for a few hours.
Say “no” to interruptions from within: resist the urge to flip to a different task when bored… or to check that social feed.
Say “no” to bingeing on a task without a plan. I think there is a huge difference between planning an extended period of deep work on something versus ‘ending up doing X all day’. Sure, there is such a thing as going with a creative moment, but not every accidental detour turns into fruitful flashes of creativity… so it’s good to recognize which realm you find yourself headed toward, and then make a decision. Do you see that you’re distracted? Or are you about to receive a creative wave that you will allow to interrupt your established schedule?
Cliff-hangers at work are motivation gold.
It’s also worth noting the value in a cliff-hanger. Cliff-hangers at work are motivation gold. Allowing yourself to acknowledge great ideas -- that you’ll explore tomorrow -- gives you room to acknowledge the job you’ve done well today. And it gives you something to look forward to the next go ‘round, without dropping the other things you’ve thoughtfully scheduled in your day.
If you haven’t already signed up for BackstageForum, I recommend you do that here so that you can get first-dibs access to the resources in this series.