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23 Oct

Everything needs to go - right?

Datum: 2023-10-23 13:14
A desktop background on a computer showing Lago Maggiore. On the desktop, there is only a single icon.

The one who wants to work with full con­cen­tra­tion and focus on the task that real­ly needs to get done right now will do best to rid them­selves of as many dis­trac­tions as possible.

Email noti­fi­ca­tion sounds, the phone ring­ing, app-noti­fi­ca­tions and col­leagues that pass our door­way is one thing; what we often do not think of remov­ing are things we hap­pen to catch a glance of that con­cern some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent than what we need to focus on right now, and dis­tracts us when we need it the least.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

Some­thing isn’t nothing

When I speak to peo­ple about hav­ing an emp­ty email inbox, some­one always says I basi­cal­ly have an emp­ty inbox — I nev­er have more than 20 emails in it”.

Sure, it might feel nice and some­what of a vic­to­ry to keep the email inbox at bay and pre­vent it from get­ting out of hand, but some­thing isn’t noth­ing — hav­ing emails in the inbox means that it is not emp­ty. The pur­pose of hav­ing an emp­ty inbox is not to prove how good, effi­cient or quick at pro­cess­ing emails we are, but to give us as few visu­al impres­sions and dis­trac­tions as pos­si­ble. Why? Because it is so easy to get dis­tract­ed by emails left in the inbox when look­ing for oth­er emails con­cern­ing some­thing com­plete­ly different.

Remov­ing those last ones makes all the difference

And the same goes for our phys­i­cal work­ing space. Sure, it is some­times great to be able to spread out the mate­r­i­al for the task we are cur­rent­ly work­ing with, but those last few notes and reminders that are left on the notice­board right in our field of view will dis­tract us dur­ing the next task. If you want to make it eas­i­er to get things done when you real­ly need to focus, then get rid of those last lit­tle dis­trac­tions too — not to be pedan­tic, but because it’s not until you have done so that you will reap the ben­e­fits of hav­ing an emp­ty, clean and invit­ing sur­round­ing environment.

All pos­si­bil­i­ties for vol­un­tary dis­trac­tions are still there

Per­haps you do not often have tasks that require this kind of extra con­cen­tra­tion and per­haps you even tend to get inspired by things you hap­pen to catch a glance of when you are work­ing away as usu­al. If so I under­stand if you don’t want to get rid of every­thing” just for the sake of it and for these rare occa­sions when you need to focus com­plete­ly. Then at least make sure you have a space or place where you can eas­i­ly go if you real­ly need to focus. It can be the end of your cor­ner desk at your office, a qui­et room avail­able in your depart­ment, or a place in the city where you some­times like to hide away.

But, if you hap­pen to be some­what like myself and many of my mentees, and you too need a few moments of visu­al and audi­to­ry peace and qui­et on a dai­ly basis, then remove those last notes, pic­tures or items as well, and the final emails in the inbox too. If you want to be inspired by hav­ing many dif­fer­ent and spon­ta­neous visu­al impres­sions that make your mind wan­der to new heights, there is a whole world of shim­mer­ing lights, sounds and peo­ple to delve into right out­side your door.

Do this

If you want to cre­ate the pre­req­ui­sites for being extra focused, then do this:

  1. Have a look around. What do you see that makes your mind wan­der more than you want it to while work­ing? Is it one of those last remain­ing notes on the notice­board? Some doc­u­ment left behind on the com­put­er desk­top? One of those left-behind emails in the inbox that rep­re­sents some­thing you have to remem­ber doing? A few papers on the desk that you will need for a task in a few days?
  2. Process and store away these items as well. Mean­ing, ask your­self what they real­ly mean to you.
    • If it is actu­al­ly trash, throw it away.
    • If it is ref­er­ence infor­ma­tion you will need at a lat­er date — save it some­where oth­er than where your eye acci­den­tal­ly catch­es it.
    • If it con­sists of papers you know when you will need, but it is a while until this time comes — mail it to your­self by putting it in your tick­ler file.
    • If it is some­thing that will take you a few min­utes to do, fin­ish or take care of — do it right away.
    • If it con­sti­tutes some­thing that takes longer than two min­utes to process or do — for­mu­late a to-do-task describ­ing what needs to be done and add it to your to-do-list.
    • If the note or email rep­re­sents some­thing more exten­sive that needs to be done and that takes longer than a work­day to com­plete, add this project or task to your overview of more exten­sive tasks and projects.
    • If it is a note remind­ing you that you are still wait­ing for some­thing from some­one, add what you are wait­ing for and from who to your list or oth­er loca­tion where you keep track of things you are wait­ing for from others.
  3. When you have processed and dealt with all the remain­ing items, papers and emails, then it is emp­ty. Tab­u­la rasa.

Get it done

If you remove those final items or papers in your field of view you will be com­plete­ly rid of any dis­tract­ing ele­ments that steal you atten­tion and focus when you need it the most. Nat­u­ral­ly, your work­ing envi­ron­ment doesn’t always have to be com­plete­ly swiped clean, but hav­ing less clut­ter around you will def­i­nite­ly make it eas­i­er to focus when you have some­thing impor­tant and com­pli­cat­ed to do.

Any oth­er ideas?

What usu­al­ly dis­tracts you the most at work? Tell me!

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