Eliminate interruptions, quiet the mind, and focus

Liam Somerville

Liam works as an IT consultant in Edmonton, Canada. He is an adventurer, thinker, and problem solver who asks the right questions and gives thoughtful and usable advice. In the three years I've known Liam I have enjoyed bouncing big ideas around while climbing mountains and exploring the growing gift of downtown Edmonton.

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One of the more interesting consequences of life in the digital age is that technology tends to advance faster than our ability to deal with it.

What’s more interesting to me is the not-so-obvious effects of technology. Chances are you’re reading this on a computer, iPad or phone. You likely have something else competing for your attention: 36 other browser tabs, work in progress, a toddler pulling at your pant leg, or the “Don’t Walk” sign as you try to cross the street.

eliminateinterruptions

I find this interesting for several reasons. The first being that we stubbornly insist we are great multitaskers, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The second is that our daily lives have become so derailed by blinks, beeps, buzzes, and new mail notifications. When we multitask, we become less effective at both tasks. We don’t even become good at juggling tasks. We’re getting less done and doing it poorly.

On Flow

In his fascinating TED talk, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi talks of a state of Flow, or “a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work”.

You’ve experienced Flow at some point in your life. When you completely immerse yourself in a great book, where you looked up from your work and it was time to go home, or when you lost yourself in conversation. Chances are good you weren’t also checking email and texting at the same time.

How do we build a life that is more purposeful, present, and focused?

Minimize the external interruptions

Disable new mail notifications. Check your email a few times a day instead of every five minutes. Turn off new SMS/email beeps/buzzes on your phone. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb.

Quiet the mind

Let your brain relax. Have a place to store your open loops, your to-dos, and your great “someday maybe” ideas. The process of getting them out of your head and into a notebook (such as Evernote) or a text file means that you don’t have to keep remembering what you’re not supposed to forget. The more you use your bucket, the less you’ll have to distract yourself while you’re trying to focus on something.

Focus

Be present in whatever it is that you’re currently doing. Give any current task your undivided attention. When talking with someone, talk with them, not whoever else happens to text you. This will probably be the hardest of the three, but is ultimately the goal of the exercise.

Eliminate interruptions, quiet the mind, and focus.

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  • Ryan Drury

    Great points Liam. I was just having a conversation on this topic last night and its crazy how we have all fallen victim “multi-tasking”. Last night I made the realization that I could not recall in recent memory the last time I watched TV or a movie at home without also looking at a computer screen, iphone, whatever else at the same time.