Finding time to concentrate in an interrupt driven world

Jul 01,2011
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This week I’ve been trying to move forward on a complex piece of work that had an immovable deadline. In the early part of the week I just couldn’t seem to get the level of concentration that I needed to really get into the work, I couldn’t concentrate properly.

But why? I was in a quiet office, I was comfortable, I had everything I needed to get going but I just couldn’t. The lure of tweets, emails, text messages, phone calls and other minor issues were far more appealing than getting on with this job. The subject of the job is one I know well and have considerable experience of but for some reason it just was not engaging me. The deadline was looming but still I kept on putting off getting into it. When I did start the research I found myself looking at a slow moving clock, almost as if I was waiting for the hands to tell me to take a lunch break to escape the subject.

I suppose in a way I was suffering from a form of writers block. So what to do? Well first I logged off from all the social sites, closed my emails (so those distracting alert messages stopped appearing), put my phone to voicemail and diverted my mobile to my phone. I closed the office door, cleared my desk of other distractions and then got all the paperwork out for the project and wrote an action plan. There I thought, I’ve started. Now I’ll just check my emails quickly…

And that was my downfall. I diverted myself away from the task and happily got embroiled in something else. I was knowingly interrupting myself, knowing that this would add to my anxiety about meeting the project deadline, knowing that I still had to get back to it, but happy for my time to be frittered away dealing with other stuff that was not really a priority.

So on Wednesday morning, I again logged off from everything and got the project work out again. I put iTunes on a long classical music playlist, filling the silence of my quiet office with music and dug out my action plan. When I next looked at the clock it was 3.45pm! WOW! I had been totally absorbed concentrating on the subject and now felt exhilarated to have got so far with it. That sense of being able to really concentrate for a long period of time is such a pleasure but increasingly difficult to really get unless you take action to switch communication channels off so that level of concentration, that Flow* state, can be achieved.

Taking a conscious break from “staying in the SoMe loop” I think is probably healthy. How you do it is up to you. But if you find me absent from Twitter, Skype, my phone etc for periods of time during the working day it’s highly likely that I am deep in concentration and happy not to be interrupted or disrupted by SoMe – just for a while!

*For more information about Flow go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi

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