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We actually love being interrupted.
That sounds weird because we often talk about disliking interruptions, but secretly we love them.
Push notifications, messages, emails… these are things that we allow to happen to us. If you allow life to happen to you instead of dictating what you will do, you’ll never get important work done.
But we like these things to happen to us. Why? Because it makes us feel important.
If you’re supposed to be writing, when you sit there long enough, you’ll eventually get a notification of some kind. This notification will tell you that someone enjoyed your work, or someone has a question, or someone needs something from you.
This feels good. It feels good to be needed. We want to feel important. But if you want to actually get important work done, you need focused blocks of time. You need time where you can be absolutely certain that you won’t be interrupted.
Minimizing distractions is one thing, but I’m talking about eliminating even the possibility of interruptions here. There shouldn’t even be a thought in the back of your mind that there may possibly be an interruption during your block of focus time.
We talk about why focused time is important, planning your day, getting into a zone of focus, and minimizing distractions.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- If you just have focused time whenever you can instead of planning it, you never know when the next focused time will be.
- Assign a task you need to do to a device, a location, or a time to create a strong association.
- Eliminating the possibility of interruptions requires forethought, planning, scheduling, and communication.
- Your focus is different when you’ve eliminated the possibility of interruptions vs. when something could interrupt you at any moment.
- We’re addicted to interruptions because they makes us feel important.
- If you’re not eliminating the possibility of interruptions, you’re waiting for something to happen to you.
- Purposefully approach your day.
- If you put your task list in an hourly planner, you’ll see what you can realistically get done.
- Start with one 90-minute block of focused time where you can eliminate distractions completely.
- 06:16 Sean: Carving out blocks of focus time is Matt’s favorite.
- 03:19 Matt: It’s an important topic. It’s something I tend to brush to the side and think I can get stuff done without it, but then I look at what I got done compared to the other times I put in the focused time, and it’s totally different.
- 03:32 Sean: It’s like, “Cory, what did you do today?” at the end of the day. It makes us feel bad if we didn’t do work and then we have to be purposeful the next day. A day can just go by where you think, “What did I do today?” and you don’t really know, which is why journaling is good. Honestly, I don’t journal. It’s bad. I should journal. Do you journal?
- 04:03 Matt: I don’t.
- 04:08 Sean: We’re trying to help people here, Matt. We need to lead by example.
- 04:15 Matt: Technically, we’re using this as a documentary, so as we learn, we’re adjusting—pivoting.
Creating Focused Time When You Don’t Want To
- 04:19 Sean: I carved out blocks of focused time last night. I was up until 3am and not because I wanted to. When this episode goes out, I will already be back from my trip, but as we’re recording, I’m going on a five day retreat. I did a similar retreat last year with the same group of guys, but this time it’s in San Diego. It’s going to be good. They gave me great advice last time (Related: seanwes podcast e209 Unsolicited Advice – Recap of A Mastermind Retreat). That’s where I finally learned you can’t give everything away for free and you have to earn the right to think long-term.
- 05:13 Those two pieces of advice were huge for me. I wasn’t hearing that in other places and I needed to hear that. It helped me. I’m looking forward to this trip a lot. The enrollment closed for Supercharge Your Writing, but while I was working on that, we were also working on the Value-Based Pricing course. We’ve been developing the actual material for the course for eight months, but by the time we launch in May, we’ll have been working on it for nearly two years now. It’s on-going and behind the scenes there’s a pilot program going on, we’re releasing lessons and doing calls, so I’ve been having to write those lessons on top of the Supercharge Your Writing launch.
- 06:02 It was a little bit intense. I have a flight tomorrow and Justin has to proof them, then I have to make the PDF, and schedule it out, so I had to just get it done. Last night around 10pm, when I was done with my normal work, I realized I still had to write the lessons. Actually, I called my dad and spent a little over an hour on the phone with my dad because he wanted to catch up with me the night before the Supercharge Your writing launch, but we ended up not talking because it was so crazy for me, so he asked to catch up last night again.
- 06:57 He was like, “Hey, are you busy?” and I’m thinking, honestly, I’ve got these lessons to write, but I said, “I am busy but that’s because I make a point to be busy. I want to use every moment I have and be productive, but I want you to know I’m never too busy. Honestly, I always have things going on, but that’s because I’m trying to be efficient with my time.” I wanted to say that and then I wanted to demonstrate that, so I’m really glad I took the time to catch up with him on the phone. It did mean writing lessons until super late. I was feeling the tension there. I had 10 lessons to write, which ended up being about 4,000 words. I didn’t want to do it. I flopped in the bean bag and Laci was reading a book on the couch.
- 07:56 Matt: She was like, “It’s ok, Sean, just turn in for the night,” right?
- 07:58 Sean: I said, “We have a show tomorrow, some website maintenance stuff in the afternoon, a dinner with people, and then I have a flight the next morning. I have to do it. I don’t want to do it.” She said, “Do what you need to do,” but I didn’t want to! She convinced me to just do it. I knew if I came to my computer, I would start getting distracted because I didn’t want to, so I decided to change things up. I took my iPad and bluetooth keyboard and set it all up in the living room. I synced my outlines through dropbox, I put my phone to the side, and there was nothing else. I knew this was it.
- 08:59 I bumped up the font size on the iPad so I could lean back on the couch and see it, I had the bluetooth keyboard in my lap, and just went at it for three or four hours. I got it all done. To get into the zone, use device, location and time.
Assign a task you need to do to a device, a location, or a time to create a strong association.
- 09:55 Like, “I always use my iPad for this kind of work,” or, “I always use this kind of work when I’m at the coffee shop,” or, “I do that kind of work when I’m in the living room,” and then there’s time: “I always work on this at 9pm.” Any one of these works alone, but they work better when you string them together.
- 10:23 I basically took two of them—a different device and I went into the living room. I changed my location and I changed the device. It helped me break away from the myriad of other tasks I normally do on my desktop that if I came in my office and got on my desktop, I would feel pulled to. I would look in the Community, check email, check Twitter notifications, look at reporting from the launch, etc. All the things I normally would do in that space, on that device, would pull me away from the task at hand.
- 11:04 Matt: I like that. I guess I do kind of the same thing when I’m in my office. If I’m at my desk, I get distracted with different things, so lately I’ve been changing it up and sitting in my massage chair. I have a 100+ inch projector screen on one wall of my office, so I’ve been using that as my screen with a keyboard in my lap to tackle emails, schedules, and edit work orders.
- 12:23 It’s like what you did, but I can’t use a small screen like an iPad. That’s helped me pump stuff out. I could sit there for hours, until my wife comes and gets me for bed. I had a beard up until today because of how much I’ve been working. I’ve been able to catch up on three weeks worth of emails, which was somewhere around 3,000 emails. Most of it was old work orders I hadn’t approved so that we could get paid!
- 13:43 Sean: Had you been neglecting all of these emails?
- 13:47 Matt: Yeah, I hate emails! Every day it just adds up. I know the right thing to do is it to just carve out some time for them. I’ve heard of some top guys who get up at 5am to knock out emails or they spend time before bed to do them. I just didn’t ever want to carve out time for that because I thought it was someone else’s job. Apparently I’m the CEO, not a worker, and I’m supposed to approve things so we can get paid and delegate stuff to people.
- 14:41 Sean: So, you set aside focused time then?
- 14:43 Matt: Now, I’ve set aside time in the mornings and also at night for it. Tonight, I’ll work on it some and in the morning I’ll refine things after hearing feedback from the assistants. Sometimes they can’t get to things because of weather or materials weren’t delivered, so I refine the plan and put it together in the mornings. Also, after that’s done, then I have other focused time throughout the day when I actually get work done.
Why Focused Time Is Important
- 15:50 Cory: It’s the only way to get a substantial amount of work done. If it’s not focused, you’re constantly getting distracted, and you’re still getting some work done, you’re deceiving yourself into thinking you’re doing well. It’s just not the same as when everything else is shut off, you’re in screen mode, and that’s all you’re looking at.
- 16:23 Matt: What do you think is better: consistent carved out focus time, or whenever-you-can-get-to-it focus time? What do you think would work for you, based on your job?
- 16:49 Cory: In general, I would have a different answer, but working for seanwes, I’m good with focusing. When I know what to do, I just do it.
- 17:01 Matt: No distractions?
- 17:04 Cory: Every now and then there’s distractions, I’ll admit to that.
- 17:07 Sean: It’s a little easier hear than outside of work, I imagine. Number one, there’s time constraints. You also have the device and location association. I think seeing how much work we’re able to get done and how much work we have done when it’s focused has proven to us that we can do a lot more than we act like we can do. When we’re not focusing, we know it. What did we get done today? Not that much or we can shoot 47 videos in a day. I’ve written 10,000 words in a day! Why am I struggling to write 10 lessons?
- 17:53 Cory: To your question, is it easier to just have focused time whenever I can or to plan focused time, I feel like I’ve been living my life having focused time whenever I can and then I have random focused times, but I’m not getting as much done. If I planned every day and started at 6am, it would be different. I did that for a time and it was great. I don’t know why I got out of it.
If you just have focused time whenever you can instead of planning it, you never know when the next focused time will be.
- 18:22 Sean: You don’t know when the next one is and you’re not eliminating the possibility of interruptions.
Eliminate the Possibility of Interruptions
- 18:31 This looks different for different people. You might have employees that might bug you, family or kids that might bug you during what should be focused time. You have to preempt that and prevent that. We’ve talked about this on the show before but I think it’s worth repeating (Related: seanwes podcast e233 Get More Time in a Day, Increase Your Focus, and Accomplish All of Your Goals). There’s minimizing distractions and there’s eliminating the possibility of interruptions.
- 18:56 They sound like the same thing, but here’s why they’re not: minimizing distractions is a now thing. Minimizing a distraction looks like if someone came into the doorway right now and said, “Hey, Sean…” I would say, “Nope. Doing a show right now.” Eliminating the possibility of interrupts, is telling anyone who could possibly come through that door, an hour before we start the show, that they shouldn’t come in there while we’re doing the show.
Eliminating the possibility of interruptions requires forethought, planning, scheduling, and communication.
- 19:32 Matt: That’s the best way to get things done from what I’ve lived and what I’ve seen happen. I’ve seen so many of my peers say they’re going to get something done in a day and they say they’re going to minimize distractions. I get that—do whatever you gotta do to minimize them. Set an app up on your computer that minimizes social media or emails. You might still have people that call, text, or visit you in your office, even if you work at home. There’s always distractions, but from my own experience and from observing other people, what works the best is telling people not to distract you during a focused time.
- 20:28 Let everyone know around you know you’ll be working from this time to this time. I’ve learned to tell people, “When I say, ‘I’m working’ do not distract me. If I’m planning things, I’m ok with a few distractions.” If I’m working, I don’t want a phone call or a knock. I tell them unless someone is dying, I don’t want to hear from them. I have times for that; I’m not a jerk. This is why I wake up early—I plan in the morning and at night. Throughout the day, I have set times where I’m working.
Your focus is very different when you’ve eliminated the possibility of interruptions vs. when something could interrupt you at any moment.
- 21:14 Sean: It occupies a part of your mind. In the back of your mind, you know your kid could run through the door, a notification could pop up on your computer or buzz on your phone, or someone could mention you in the chat window that’s open. If you’re not eliminating the possibility of interruptions, you’re waiting for something to happen to you.
- 21:49 Matt: It’s like half your mind is ready for a tweet or snap to come in, or for your kid to come in the home office. A lot of my friends work from home with their kids or their wives just walking in all the time. I asked, “How do you work with that going on?” and they say, “You get used to it.” Do you, though?
We’re addicted to interruptions because they makes us feel important.
- 22:08 Sean: It makes us feel like we’re doing something worthwhile because something commanded our attention. Someone liking your tweet is not a notification you should be getting. That makes you feel important for a moment. It’s like, “Someone in the world interacted with a piece of content I made and I get to feel good about that right now.” “Someone in the chat mentioned my name and I get to feel important right now because someone’s talking to me or about me.”
- 22:43 “Someone comes into the room and wants to know something from me, so I feel important.” The same with texting and push notifications. If we don’t eliminate the possibility of interruptions, we could just sit here and the world—the systems of notifications we’ve created around us—will confirm and reaffirm to us that we are important, all the while, we’re not doing work that is important. We’re going to sit here and let these things make us feel important while we’re not doing things that are important. It’s a terrible substitution.
- 23:28 You’re focused, you know what you need to do, and if you don’t do what you need to do, you can sit there and let things happen to you and let yourself feel important. If I’m supposed to be writing, but I’m not writing anything—even brain dumping—and someone texts me, then I think, “Oh, I guess I can’t write. I’m important and I have things to tend to.” You’re not important! People who are important carve out focused blocks of time to do important work to become important people.
- 24:30 Matt: There’s no possible way anyone would get anything done. In movies, important peoples’ assistants will say, “This person is calling,” and the important person will say, “Do they have an appointment?” In real life, especially when you’re a CEO of a big company, there is no “everyone come in.” There’s so many things to attend to, you have to have blocks of time to tend to all those separate things. If there’s spontaneous things that aren’t scheduled, it has to wait, unless it’s an emergency. I’ve tried to practice those things in my life and I feel like I’ve had pretty good success.
- 25:18 I will say, on the flip side, there’s some negative feedback I’ve heard from this and I want your feedback on it. I’ll ignore my phone or put it on Do Not Disturb mode while I’m working or in a meeting, because I want to respect who I’m meeting with. Out of respect for them, I’m trying to eliminate interruptions, not minimize distractions. I do the same thing with my work if I have focused things I need to get done. I’ve heard people say that’s seen as disrespectful because you’re blowing people off. They say, “What if we need to contact you?”
- 26:17 Sean: What about the person in front of you?
- 26:18 Matt: Exactly! I said that the person in front of me or the work in front of me is important, and if you don’t have an appointment, I’m sorry but you’re not on my schedule. I’m not claiming to be the president, but I do value my work and my output. In order for me to get things done, this is what I have to do to focus.
- 26:48 Sean: That’s not disrespectful at all.
- 26:50 Matt: I’ve actually lost clients and friends, family members don’t talk to me because they say, “We can enver get a hold of you.” No, there are ways they can get a hold of me, but I don’t tell them those because they’ll abuse them. People are always saying, “I messaged you this morning!” but did they call me on my personal phone or my client number? I’ve got three different lines! If my cousin calls and says they’re going to be in town, that’s not important right then to me. People are always saying I should at least respond to that and say, “Oh, cool,” but I’ll get to them whenever I’m off work.
- 28:26 Sean: It sounds bad when you’re not someone in that kind of position. You can’t possibly understand it.
- 28:35 Matt: It’s hard enough for me to give an elevator pitch on what I do, so there’s really no way to explain what I do because I do so many things. I’m a worker one day, I’m a marketer another day, I’m a double some days, and I’m the CEO.
Planning Your Day
- 33:55 Sean: Aaron was a guest on a recent seanwes podcast, where he talked about how he plans his day (Related: seanwes podcast e257 Planning Your Day for Maximum Efficiency in Under 5 Minutes and Still Accounting for Unplanned Events). He handwrites in a journal all the numbers of each hour of the day that he’s going to work and he writes down what he’s going to do in each block of time. It’s really simple but it works really well for him. I like it because it’s a way to purposefully approach your day. I’m guilty of going into the day and saying, “There’s a lot of tasks. Let’s face them head on and we get done what we get done. We’ll see how it goes.”
- 34:52 Matt: I think you can get it done. I’ve seen a lot of people wing it and I do it sometimes too.
- 35:00 Sean: I don’t feel accomplished. Either I come up short and don’t accomplish what I think is a good amount of tasks or I do them and I don’t really feel like I got much done, or I get them done and I keep going, but the to-do list is never ending so I still feel unaccomplished. When I go into my day and I say, “I’m going to do this at this time, this at that time,” and I map it all out, I understand what’s a realistic amount of work because I see it in hours instead of checkboxes. This is what it will actually take and now I have a written record of what I’ve done that day.
Your task list is a mile long but if you put it in an hourly planner, you’ll see what you can realistically get done.
- 35:42 Matt: Whereas if you look at just the task list, you get depressed. I like how Aaron marks stuff off his journal. I think he said if he doesn’t get to something, he’ll scratch it off and replace it with something else, then he moves that task to another day. I like the idea of using that as a log. That’s great whether you’re a boss or work for yourself. You know exactly what project you did on Monday.
- 36:54 Sean: It does double duty—you don’t have to keep a log or a journal, because planning out your day like that, it’s all there. Don’t think of it as needing to plan your perfect day or every minute has to be a focused block of time. I want to encourage you to try once a day to get one 90-minute focused block of time. Pick the big thing you need to get done and set aside that time, tell people who might interrupt you when you’ll be working, and get rid of the distractions.
- 37:32 So many people are haphazardly going about their day, pushing around tasks, kind of getting work done. They spend eight hours, but really, maybe an hour of that was actually doing something purposeful. If you’re doing 90 minutes, you’re already doing better and you can work up to adding more blocks of time. That 90-minute focused block of time is going to be huge for you.
Start with one 90-minute block of focused time where you can eliminate distractions completely.
- 38:33 Matt: Tell everyone who would usually distract you that you’re working. Part of you wants those distractions so you have something that will take you away. It’s eliminating all of those things that you would normally be waiting on to take you away from your work.