Sunday, January 17, 2010

Work, Interrupted

Late one night last week, as I was managing 25 open windows, three Twitter accounts, the neverending stream of email and somehow deluding myself into thinking I was "working," my friend Chris Brogan's latest tweet popped up.  It read something like "we live in an interruption-based society."  Somewhat ironic, given that the tweet itself is the very type of interruption of which he was speaking (but only because I have my TweetDeck set to “interrupt” me with messages like that—essentially, my own damn fault!).  But I’ve been pondering his comment for the past several days.

While those of us in the communications business have a professional obligation to stay connected to the virtual world, I think we are guilty of being more "busy" than truly engaged.  When does our compulsion to multi-task, to be constantly connected, for immediacy and instant gratification just become a fruitless exercise in unfocused activity and excess noise?

I'm currently jotting down this blog on a scrap of magazine paper using a borrowed pen, on a plane en route to Atlanta.  AFTER I finally finished the website copy and company boilerplate I've struggled to write for months.  It seems all I needed was a two hour plane ride with—you guessed it—no interruptions.

So, I’m vowing this week to take control of my schedule.  I’m committed to spending one hour per day without interruptions.  No television, no iPod, no cell phone, no Twitter, no Facebook, no email and no IM.  Just me and the task at hand.  Care to join me?


  1. Great post, Laura! I have been working on this, too. I've been batching my email and making an effort to get OFF the web when it's interfering with my work. Although, like you, much of my work is on the web, there are always offline tasks that must be done with full engagement.

    Recently read an article ("Fatal Distraction")on the dangers of distraction on - apparently there is a phenomenon of parents forgetting their babies in the car (sorry, I can't seem to copy/paste the direct link here).

    The common thread in most of the cases seemed to be multitasking (particularly cell phone use). A chilling cautionary tale for our relentlessly busy times.

  2. Casey--it's so true. We just can't focus on as many things at a time as we think.

    I'll look up that article--thanks for sharing.

  3. This is such a great post! And so true! Last year I had to implement a reward system for myself. If I checked on thing off my to-do list, I could check Twitter. I was using the excuse that I was doing business development on Twitter, all day, every day. But the truth was, I wasn't doing my other job - running a company. So now I only engage on the social networks first thing in the morning, around noon, and the last thing at night. It turns out it works!

  4. Great post! The problem of multi-tasking and being really busy without accomplishing enough real work will only continue to get worse as even more forms of interruption are produced.

    I go through periods where I am extremely involved in the distractions and realize that they are getting in the way of accomplishing really meaningful goals at work and in my life.

    Then comes the period where I scale back my use of those tools and evaluate what can be cut and what will really help me accomplish what I want to in life.

    The most important thing is having a clear set of personal goals and making sure your work and energy are used to help accomplish them. Also, having hobbies/activities that require you to put down your electronic devices and enjoy the outdoor world help immensely.

  5. Another tool to look into if you must be on-line but do not want interruptions: virtual desktops. Place your email, IM, etc. on one desktop. Work on another desktop. Switching is a conscious act, and you can train yourself (eventually) not to switch all the time.

  6. Gini,

    I'm the QUEEN of rewarding myself with things. I'm also limiting social networking to first thing in the morning, one or two times in the afternoon and late in the evening. Otherwise, I'll waste five hours on Twitter!

  7. So awfully true, Laura. I have a half-written post about the same thing! I'll probably finish it on my next airplane ride. I sometimes escape to a local coffee place and try to write there, because they have no free wifi. OK...I better save the rest for my own post. I could easily write a whole post in someone's comment field. So much harder when it's on my blog.

    PS Lauras rule!

  8. I agree with you Laura, I am often bogged down in the interruptions I cause/create. Unplugging every now and then is a must-do and a great way to gain control of my productivity. I have personally created a system, which is partly based on Tim Ferris' 4 Hour Work Week and partly based on David Allen's Getting Things Done. I'll keep you posted on my progress/efficiency. Glad I am not the only person who suffers from this syndrome.

  9. Tim Ferris talks a lot about this in 'The Four Hour Work Week' (a must read) and how our work expands or contracts to fill the time we give it. So if we allow ourselves to be interrupted - the work expands accordingly.

  10. There was also a study done not so long ago (don't remember where I read about it though!). It showed that while we tend to think we accomplish more when we multi-task, the constant switching from one thing to another ultimately takes more time to complete the given tasks than if we approached them in a linear format.

  11. Unfortunately our lives are now programmed into accepting these interruptions. I believe that most of feel that if we choose to ignore any of the tweets, emails , im's etc, we'll be missing out on some knowledge or something to share. I personally feel its getting harder to break this, unless I'm out away from my computer and leave my iphone at home.

  12. Hoorah - and as you post you enlighten the world just a bit more. I love those "Ah-Ha's" about life and living. I recently installed an app called RescueTime on my Mac that essentially tracks your time and gives you a report (another distraction about my distractability) and what I found was that I am liking the quiet time and being more efficient. Can't go without the music though... but certainly can commit to an hour for the task at hand. Great post.

  13. I think there's a "diet" mentality to online things - if you stop cold turkey somehow you'll be better for it. While satisfying, it can lead to binge eating afterword. Diets have pretty much been proven to lead, long term, to weight gain. Paul Graham has written about this - as it relates to creative people at least.


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