I like routines. I like predictable outcomes and using one's time to the best of their abilities. That’s why this week has been so frustrating. I’ve found myself getting easily distracted and have struggled to stay focused while at work. I’m only human like the rest of you so it's expected that you have a few ‘off’ days here and there but it’s also infuriating when I find myself mindlessly scrolling through some feed when I should be working. 

Using social media is a dead give away that I’m procrastinating. If I’m there for anything over 30 seconds, I guarantee that I’ve forgotten what my original intention was and am now just wasting time. That’s how social media works because the longer they have your attention, the more money they make, they’re good at making you forget. When I find myself excessively scrolling, that’s a red flag that I need to rein things back in and get back on task.

When this happens multiple times in a working day something is out of whack. What is causing me to be so easily distracted? I pride myself on being about to squeeze value out of every hour I get at work so what’s going on? Then it dawned on me. Funnily enough at dawn this morning when I was running. I was running and I needed batteries. I love my running and try to do it every second day but our family timetable / the weather / unforeseen circumstances has reduced my run down to once a week, if I’m lucky.

The health benefits of running are obvious but I run for the psychological benefits. My  therapist even prescribed it as something I need to build into my regular routine to make sure my (emotional) bucket doesn’t overflow. Running, along with moments of self care and self forgiveness, act like a tap, stopping the overflow and keeping a lid on that emotional bucket. When I feel like things are getting overwhelming, I can normally trace it back to not releasing the tap in a while.

A near overflowing bucket is distracting. It’s why I spent 20 minutes watching DIY home improvement videos rather than writing the TinyOffice Comms Strategy on Tuesday. It‘s difficult to reach a deep work state when you feel like you're leaking.

I’ve been reading Deep Work by Cal Newport this week (which may or may not be contributing to the stress I’m feeling about getting distracted). He describes three different philosophies around creating depth in your work. 

First is the ‘Monastic Philosophy’ which attempts to maximise deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimising shallow obligations. This is made famous by people like Stephen King and J.K Rowling who are unreachable when writing. It’s removing all distractions to focus completely on whatever you’re producing. I find this idea wonderful but completely achievable in my current life situation. 

Second is the ‘Bimodal Philosophy’ asks you to divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else. I like this and up until recently had a pretty good system of blocking out distractions and working in hour long blocks on projects. The shake up in our routine has really knocked this out - as well as the batteries going flat in my Time Timer… 

Third is the ‘Rhythmic Philosophy’ which argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep sessions is to transform them into a regular habit. This is often called the ‘chain method’, after Jerry Seinfeld explained to a young comedian that in order to be a better comic you have to create better jokes. Steinfeld does this by crossing out the date on the calendar every day he writes jokes. Eventually you start to create a chain with the cross on the calendar and your job then becomes to not break the chain. 

I’ve tried lots of things in the past and the most successful system I’ve landed on is a mix of Bimodal and Rhythmic. Each workday I start with a 2 column list (on a good day I’ve written this the night before). Column one is the tasks I have to do and Column 2 is a list of things it would be nice to get done. 

I turn off my phone, email apps, slack, chrome, safari - basically anything that goes ‘ping’, set my ‘Time Timer’ for an hour and start working. When the hour is up, I switch to the second task in column one, then to the third. If I’ve started work at 9 then it's 12 and I’ve just completed 3 power hours of super focused work. If the rest of the afternoon is spent corresponding and doing the tasks in column 2 then, I’ve had a productive day. 

When I have large projects on, column one might all be for the same client but the key to it all - I’ve discovered over the last few weeks is the Time Timer! There is something about spinning that little dial that makes me focus like nothing else. It has become a ritual that triggers deep work. In that regard I’d say it is more rhythmic than bimodal but I don’t think it really matters to be honest.

What does matter is realising what works with your circumstances and being attuned to changes. Being able to tweak the routine is the only way it will survive and thrive. I’ve come to realise that I’m not going to get the long stretches of undisturbed time I want for work so I should stop stressing, procrastinating and morning them and really lean into my power hours. 

I put new batteries in my Time Timer and it's already working. I’m like Pavlov's dog associating deep work with the Time Timer! Add to that being able to run more regularly and focusing more on what I can do rather than what I can’t, I’m already feeling more like my productive self. If only all of life’s problems were solved with a single AA.

Video of the week
Taika Waititi reads a hilarious letter about a speeding ticket
Podcast of the week
Bang On: Kath & Kim, Dolly Inducted, Clitoris Mascot
Font of the week
Gooper: Font of the week by Very Cool Studio

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