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“Distract Me” Time

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

I listened to a great new book this week by Cal Newport called Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. It builds on his prior book called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. You can see the theme here: we waste most of our time on small distractions that erode our focus and ability to do important work. Both are great reads and offer countless tactics for blocking out distractions in an always-on world. We cover how to foresee these distractions and add them to your #NDL in two chapters of Not Doing List.

A fundamental teaching of Cal Newport’s research and Not Doing List is: you must

set aside time for distractions to avoid them during the rest of the day. To do this, declare to the world when you are open and willing to accept distractions. Pick a time each day to swing your virtual door wide open. Come one, come all texts, IMs, Slack messages, social media notifications, and phone calls (if people are still using a phone for that…)

By agreeing with yourself when it is okay to be distracted, you are also agreeing with yourself when it is not.

Try this: choose a chunk of time each day when you will proactively allow yourself to be distracted. A block of time when you’ll check your devices and let yourself be pulled in whatever direction people or notifications take you. But, that window is all you get. Then work to funnel as many of the distractions to that block of time as possible. Be transparent. Tell your colleagues and friends that you are 100% free for them at that time each day and that you’re focusing on other work the rest of the day.

Cal Newport commented that this tactic is similar to the office hours he holds for his students at Georgetown University. He also shared a story in Digital Minimalism from a silicon valley executive that put in place the 5:30pm principle. Anyone who needed something was told to call him any day of the week at 5:30pm. This is when the executive was sitting in rush hour traffic and was okay with being distracted by phone calls. Anyone who pinged him throughout the week, got the same response: “call me at 5:30pm any day you like”.

We need to find and live by our own 5:30pm principle.

Knowing that you have this time set aside each day allows you to fight off distractions the rest of the day. In Not Doing List, we show how this allows you to get more important work done and make progress toward your goals. We also share tactics for blocking out distractions with airplane mode and auto responses so that you can make these “Distract Me” time blocks really work.

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