Getting your attention back

Something embarrassing happened to me the other day.

I picked up my phone to look at the time. While unlocking my phone, I noticed a message from a friend. I read it, responded to it, and put my phone back down—only to realize I didn’t check the time.


I bet this never happens to you. 😉

We look at our phone’s notifications without being aware of looking at them. There’s nothing wrong with that per se; you’re probably not aware of turning off the tap after washing your hands either. No biggie.

But I find that these automated, subconscious reactions to our phones can destroy productive work sessions.

I mean, you can set up the most amazing productivity systems in the world. (I’m a fan of OmniFocus, a rather sophisticated task management system. In fact, I’m hosting a webinar next week to teach you how to get organized with OmniFocus.)

But productivity systems won’t do you any good if your attention is shot.

Now let’s say you’re on board with this. You know you’d do better work if you weren’t constantly distracted, particularly by your phone. How do you fix it, though?

First, don’t beat yourself up about it. That won’t do you any good.

We all get distracted. And it can be such a struggle to carve out uninterrupted work time. Whether that’s because you have kids, because you work in an open office, or because you reach for your phone a little too readily.

You can’t go from distracted to hyper-focused work sessions in one go, but you can head that way gradually. I like to suggest starting by setting a rule for yourself.

When you start your work day, set your phone to “do not disturb”, put it out of reach, and set a timer for 60 minutes. (If you’re working on a computer, set your computer to do not disturb, too.)

Then work on an important task until either you finish it or the timer goes off. Don’t touch your phone in the meantime.

If you find that subtracting this one distraction helps you stay focused, then add a second rule. Perhaps your second rule could be not to check your email until after you’ve done this first hour of work.

This won’t supercharge your productivity overnight, but it’s a start.


— Peter

P.S. If you already have work rules that help you be productive, please share them. I could use a few more!

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