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Habit Changes: Remove Distractions from Your Work-Flow

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

This is part 4 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.


What is deep work?

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. - Cal Newport, Deep Work

In my last article, we explored how discerning what parts of the day we are best suited for deep, focused work can help us to make consistent and meaningful progress in our practice/project/business goals.  We discovered that such structure can actually help us to see measurable progress and to be more flexible with our remaining time.

Here, we’ll discuss TWO THINGS that will help you to remove distractions... so that you can develop and use your deep work superpower:

  1. Allow yourself to “pause” the other important things in your life

  2. Schedule your emails, small tasks, & texting time

Once you know what your productive blocks are (a.k.a. anchor points), make the most of your time.  Protect those important tasks! Doing so will also help you protect your time away from them, because you will have the peace of mind that allows you to fully shift gears and be fully present with whatever you are doing.

1. Allow yourself to “pause” the other important things in your life.  

You’ll actually get more done if you focus on one thing at a time.  Don’t allow yourself to check emails or texts or bounce in and out of social media sites.  

In Deep Work, Cal Newport points out that it takes 20 minutes to get refocused after each distraction, which is costly both to the depth of work we accomplish, and our overall productivity declines by 40%!  

“Every time you switch your attention from one target to another and then back again, there’s a cost..."

“Every time you switch your attention from one target to another and then back again, there’s a cost. This switching creates an effect that psychologists call attention residue, which can reduce your cognitive capacity for a non-trivial amount of time before it clears. If you constantly make “quick checks” of various devices and inboxes, you essentially keep yourself in a state of persistent attention residue, which is a terrible idea if you’re someone who uses your brain to make a living.”  (In his interview with NYT columnist Tim Herrerra: How to Actually, Truly Focus on What You’re Doing.)  

2. Schedule your emails, small tasks, & texting time

Seriously… consider NOT starting your day with emails!  They can derail even the best of plans because half of the battle is mindset.  Do you want to go into the most important part of your workday distracted by a million little things?  Or can they wait a few hours until a time in the day that is less costly to your productivity?

Scheduling your email time and other smaller tasks will allow you to maintain focus on your big task because you know when you’ll be able to switch gears.  If this idea is new, or you simply can’t imagine going without checking in on a device, then consider starting small. Set a timer for 5, 10, or 30 minutes and work at a single task without interruption during that time.  After the timer goes off, you can either check your device or choose to continue your task.

Repeating this method and lengthening the time can help you to strengthen your resolve to stay all-in on a single task (because we already know that as a musician you already have the skill of focus), and your capacity for long stretches of deep work will increase over time.


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.

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