We all know that distractions are bad. If you give in to them, you get sidetracked. They interject themselves between you and your goal, luring you away with the promise of instant gratification. “Just a few minutes” is a lie we’re all too familiar with. Before you know it, you’ve spent hours doomscrolling Instagram and binging YouTube.
Perhaps counterintuitively, the opposite – intense focus – is equally dangerous. If not managed, it can lead to tunnel vision. I suffer from this. I become so immersed in the task at hand that I lose sight of the bigger picture. As a result, I’m sometimes inefficient and ineffective.
Focus and perfectionitis are a bad combination. It leads to inefficiency. You spend too long on tasks that should take less time.
Ever spend hours drafting an email or post? For me, this quote from Oscar Wilde hits close to home: “I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out.”
There’s no end to perfection. There are diminishing returns, however. The longer you take, the lower your ratio of value to effort becomes.
The Pareto principle encapsulates this: 80% of our output comes from 20% of the effort.
Effectiveness means doing the right things. When focus is not applied towards the correct priorities, it’s ineffective.
A common failure mode is to get swept up in the current of urgent tasks. If you only pay attention to what’s immediately in front of you, you forgo the important for what’s urgent. You become reactive instead of proactive. You maintain the status quo rather than advancing it.
Ever have your workday get derailed by an email? It always seems like a minor detour at first. But one thing leads to another and before you know it, you’re down the rabbit hole. By the end of the day, you didn’t do a single thing that you set out to. Sure, you got “stuff” done - but did it really move the ball forward?
Scheduled interrupts solve this allowing you to immerse in an activity while ensuring that you don’t get swept away by it. Alarms are a typical example - by assuming the responsibility of waking you up, they free you to sleep deeply without worrying about the next morning.
Scheduled interrupts make you more efficient through timeboxing. The interruption acts as a stopping point. It divides continuous time into discrete periods, i.e timeboxes. These serve as a forcing function, bringing Parkinson’s Law into effect: “work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion”.
By making you more aware of time spent, it also prevents you from getting lost in the task and chasing diminishing marginal returns. I applied this by adopting the Pomodoro Technique to track my writing times.
Scheduled interrupts make you more effective through prioritization. The interruption breaks your flow and offers a necessary pause to reflect. It acts as an escape hatch for when you’re on auto-pilot and blindly hammering away at the tasks directly in front of you. It’s an opportunity to ask yourself “is this the most valuable thing I can be doing?”.
This allows you to be proactive instead of reactive; to focus on the important instead of the urgent. My weekly reflections (adapted from Habit Gym) facilitate this by enabling me to regularly recalibrate my priorities. This ensures that my actions are in line with my goals.
Together, timeboxing and prioritization are a powerful combination. Prioritization helps you determine what tasks are important. Timeboxing helps you split time across them. Equipped with both, you can diversify your effort and move the ball forward on several fronts at a time - efficiently and effectively.
This post took redacted minutes to write.
P.S: You can find more of my thoughts on Twitter @_suketk.