Much has been said about the scourge of distraction in the modern world with phones taking most of the blame. Proposed solutions range from blocking apps to analogue alternatives. I embraced a Facebook-free life long ago and use Freedom to restrict my time on LinkedIn.
But, digital minimalism only gets me so far. For my rebellious brain any digital ban is an obstacle to be overcome rather than a master to be obeyed. Besides, when I am hyperfocussing on a text the temptation to scroll evaporates. My biggest focus gremlin is not my phone but myself. Willpower matters less than developing commitment to my process, my boundaries and my time.
As a freelancer it’s easy to prioritise the schedules of others over your own. Since hyperfocus is personal and invisible, it is tempting to see focus time as negotiable. Too often I have sacrificed my focus time to fit in with other people’s kids and shifts. Their external restrictions took precedence over my self-imposed ones. Social conditioning makes saying ‘no’ hard. It feels rude to turn away an unexpected offer or guest and my cognitive function never seemed like a valid excuse.
But I now consider my focus to be my business’s biggest asset and I protect it like Fort Knox. Here are the features of my focus time security system.
I manage expectations by letting others know that mornings are off limits. “I work in the mornings” has become a mantra. Establishing a rule and expressing it as a simple incontrovertible fact eliminates the pressure of considering individual requests. To avoid mixed messages, I turn down invitations and ignore calls even if I’m not busy. If I make an exception, I refer to it as “booking time off” as a reminder of the value of my focus time.
I schedule hair and medical appointments in the afternoon or evening or, failing that, book time off and cluster all my chores and appointments together.
Even short interruptions can kill my flow. Taking delivery of a purchase can divert my hyperfocus away from my work and towards my new toy. Couriers are instructed to leave deliveries in my shed. A sign on my door reads, “Shift worker. Please do not knock”. I tip my postman at Christmas to show my appreciation.
I schedule any attended deliveries in the afternoon. Deliveries with no specified time slot (my idea of hell) are for days when I’m doing mindless chores.
I do check my emails while working in case a client needs me, but I do so mindfully. I snooze non-urgent emails for later. If an idea or to-do list item comes to me, I email it to myself and get straight back to work.
Yes, I know. All of this is starting to sound a lot like a routine. What can I say? My brain knows what it wants and what it wants is to be left alone in the mornings.