deep and singular focus is just what the doctor ordered, but in our hyper-connected world, it isn’t always easy…. You could chuck all your gadgets and move to the woods, but luckily you don’t need to get that drastic. Experts say you can begin to retrain your brain and take advantage of deep focus by concentrating on one thing at a time, managing your use of technology, and reframing the “instant-response” expectations of your colleagues—and yourself.
Inbox and Reminders integrate with Google Calendar, but can be difficult to adjust in Calendar. Any tasks scheduled at the same time group together in Calendar, and the group is tied together unless the tasks are individually rescheduled to different times (no dragging-and-dropping allowed). In addition, Inbox’s ability to schedule email is quite nice, but retrieving a list of all the email needing a response is sometimes cumbersome. Also, snoozed email doesn’t get added to Calendar unless some specific “remember to” text is added for it. So, daily planning seemed somewhat encumbered by the still-evolving implementation of integration among Inbox, Reminders, and Calendar.
OneNote is a tool I’ve been using and have found very helpful for some time now. But, sometime’s I’d forget to copy tasks over to a new day’s page, and planning out what emails needed to be written when proved not to be the easiest thing either (i.e., copy-and-paste the URL in Gmail to get back to the email later).
Thus far though, Todoist has been a happy medium for a lot of this, and they’ve recently rolled out a robust, user-friendly two-way sync with Google Calendar. The implementation with Google Calendar is really quite transparent and helpful. The Todoist for Gmail extension for Google Chrome also makes planning when and how to address incoming email quite straightforward.
For a survey of the Todoist’s new integration with Google Calendar, see the following YouTube clip:
For further discussion of Todoist and its use with GTD, see Todoist’s site and the following YouTube playlist:
It’s certainly not new, but I recently came across the GTD Times blog run by the David Allen Company. The most recent entry is the first part of a keynote in which Allen overviews his approach to “getting things done,” as covered more fully in his book by the same title. If academia should ever manifest itself as an environment with an overabundance of demands, Allen’s advice may be a helpful starting point in adequately coming to grips with that situation.
Why? Because focus is rare and distraction abundant. As Hyatt comments,
Even when we think we are focusing, we usually aren’t. When we work intensely on one problem but do quick “check backs” on email, social media, and the like during breaks, we run into the problem of “attention residue.” Those things come back with us when we return to our core work and make it harder to focus on our most important tasks.
For the balance of Hyatt’s summation of the interview, see his blog. Or, for the full interview, see the recording below:
A recent study commissioned by Microsoft Canada found, disturbingly, that the human participants’ average attention spans had fallen to 8 seconds, a shorter time frame than measured for goldfish (Evernote, New York Times). One of the major suspected drivers of these results is the propensity of the participants to use a mobile device while “paying attention” to something else.
Even comparatively minor distractions apparently have a compound effect on concentration and productivity (Computers in Human Behavior, Evernote). What is required to avoid this effect will be different in different contexts (Knowledge@Wharton). But, being as “present” as possible in or to whatever situation we’re engaged in should be helpful in at least raising for ourselves the question of whether the amount of time and life invested into something—e.g., a ding, chirp, buzz, beep, or blink—is actually worth the return that might be expected from that thing.
I couldn’t go on at my previous pace, and I didn’t have to. I began building new boundaries around my margin. And I started enforcing them to keep myself out of trouble. This is where the rubber meets the road for us all. We must deliberately build margin into our lives, or our busy seasons will become permanent. No one else is going to do this for us.
Although I’ve moved away from using Evernote, their blog still often features interesting content. Recently they’ve had a three-part series on minimalism that heavily leans on Joshua Becker (part 1, part 2, part 3). Among Joshua’s reflections that the series provides are a two-part suggestion for “saying ‘no’ effectively:
1. Figure out and write down what your priorities and values are, even if you’re in a hectic environment. Ask yourself some tough questions like “Who is the person I want to become? Would my 40-year-old self approve of this?”
2. Realize and understand this: “If you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else. If you want to say no to something, realize that allows you to say yes to something else.” This is the true power of saying no: freeing up time so you can say yes to the things that matter most to you.
“If you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else.”
Or, in economic terms, each opportunity taken also has with it an accompanying “opportunity cost.” For the balance of the post series, see the Evernote blog (part 1, part 2, part 3). Joshua’s book, The More of Less (WaterBrook, 2016) can be found on Amazon.
Shawn Stevenson’s core business certainly falls in an area where probably few biblical scholars will care to follow. But, some of the implications of the expertise that he has for broader productivity applications may indeed prove informative and helpful.
Michael Hyatt has a helpful discussion of 10 tips for enabling better focus. For me, suggestions 5 (“Take email … software offline.”) and 6 (“Put on music that helps facilitates concentration.”) have tended to prove particularly helpful.
For Michael’s discussion of these tips and the other 8 he provides, see his original post.