Let me be clear: the DISCIPLINE to clear for yourself blocks of time to do focused work is the single biggest differentiating factor between good and great work, in ALL disciplines, business, writing, art, parenting, anything.
And that’s because focus can be so elusive.
We can go days without ever having a session of work that feels truly focused and that is so draining.
Sometimes the struggle is an internal one (the ever-present urge to check Instagram, for instance, or a fuzzy brain because of lack of sleep) but often I hear Penelopes complain that it’s external distractions that are the true intruders.
I think that shutting down these external forms of distraction is especially difficult for Penelopes because we tend to be people-pleasers by nature. (“I don’t want to not take your call because I want you to LIKE me!”)
So consider this post your Permission Slip for combatting external focus-stealers.
You are not being selfish by adopting this time management strategy.
In fact, you are going to be a calmer, nicer, person and a better employee – even, dare I say, a better Mama, if you do.
Because if you use this strategy, you’ll be able to get more focus. Which means you’ll get more done, which means you’ll feel sooooo much better. Which means you’ll be less distracted later and more able to be Happy Mommy and not Stabby Mommy.
So, what do I want you to do? I want you to create a cocoon. A cocoon of focus.
What is a cocoon of focus?
A cocoon of focus is a set of circumstances (both physical and digital) that you create in order to wrap yourself up in the warm embrace of focus.
How do I create my cocoon?
1) Decide when and where you need this time of focus.You need to know before beginning what work, specifically, you’ll be doing. If you’ve created your block schedule, this should be pre-decided.
2) Set expectations with your colleagues, family and daycare providers so they know that this time is set aside for your focused work. You want them to know this in advance so that you won’t be worried that you’ve dropped this bomb on them when they might otherwise need you.
3) Turn off all the software on your computer except for the ones you need. That means the browser you use for Facebook and Pinterest, too. Yep, that one. Off it goes. Anything that is going to ping or flash or otherwise try to distract you should be disabled. Full stop.
4) Turn your phone onto Do Not Disturb. This is tough, but it must be done. You can customize the settings of Do Not Disturb in the way that is best for you so that you feel ok about doing this. For instance, my 4-year-old is at preschool while I work. I don’t ever want to be beyond the reach of his caregiver, so I’ve set up my DND so that if his caregiver calls me, that call gets through. I can relax knowing I’m not unreachable.
5) Prepare your favorite warm or iced beverage as a “getting in the mood” for this kind of work. This will train you to look forward to this time. I use the same mug for each session, my favorite one, and save my favorite Keurig coffee pods for this time, too. You want to get your brain into this mood. Woo it, romance it, show it a good time.
6) Make sure you are as physically comfortable as you can be. If you can, wear comfortable clothes. I have a comfy, shawl-collared sweater I love to throw on in the winter. It gets me into comfy, cozy, Focus Mode. Sure, it’s a little “Mr. Rogers” to change into a different sweater, buy, hey, if it worked for that guy, who am I to judge?
7) Find your own soundtrack of focus. If you work well with music, turn that on. I prefer silence, but my hearing is nearly bionic, so I’m weirdly sound sensitive.
8) Use physical cues to tell the outside world that focused work is happening. If you need to close a door, do that. At my office, many of us work from home, but we communicate using the Messages app on our iMac desktops. When we “go into the cocoon”, we change our IM “availability message” to reflect that we’re doing focused work. Then our co-workers know not to randomly IM or text during this time.
9) Set a timer. You can go old school and use an egg timer or the like, or you can use a digital device. Either way, you must time-bound this session. If you don’t, you will constantly be distracted by wanting to make sure that you haven’t lost track of time. So set the timer and then give yourself over to the work. I use 45 minute chunks with 10 minutes in between for short breaks. But you need to figure out your own best time chunk.
10) Come out of the cocoon in the same way every time. Take stock of what you accomplished while in the cocoon. Be proud of yourself. Stretch for sec, then re-enter the busy, overwhelming digital world.
If you follow Steps 3-10 at least once a day every workday, you’ll re-enter the world knowing that you have done work of real import, in a whole, focused way. Good job.
By the way, if you want more time management strategies that work for me and my team, head here.