The response to my first blog has been pretty overwhelming. I didn’t anticipate how scared I would feel when we posted it on the website. I suddenly felt horribly exposed. Why should anyone care about my thoughts on hats and chunks?!
Within 5 minutes I got a message from my brother telling me how much he enjoyed reading it. I can’t tell you how relieved I felt on hearing that. But he’s my brother so he doesn’t really count.
Thankfully, I then had messages from more people giving me positive feedback and the best thing was hearing them say they found it really useful.
I think that was one of the things that was scaring me. In all the learning I’ve done over the past few months, I’ve begun to see clearly just how distracted we all are and how much noise there is around us. Read this, like that, swipe right, buy now. This is something I am trying to consciously change in my life; to reduce the distractions and quieten the noise. And yet here I am adding to it. Adding another “read this” notification into the swirling mass.
I had a chat with my colleague Dan about it. He gave me some good advice that went something like this; “Noise is the stuff around us that isn’t useful. So make your article useful”.
Wise words. (But then Dan is a very wise man so this shouldn’t come as a surprise).
His words rang in my ears as I wrote my article. And my fear as my words launched into the noisy world of the web was all based on my deep hope that someone would find it a useful read. So I couldn’t be happier to hear people tell me that they are making hats and chunks work in their own lives, that they shared the article with their teams and all chatted about this approach. That fills me with joy.
The article also led me to have a number of fascinating conversations with different people, in different jobs and with different hats to wear, about how hard it is to juggle all the demands we all face in our lives. They wanted to talk more about how to keep on top of things. How to feel that, occasionally, we are winning the race.
During these conversations, I’ve realised there are two other things that sit alongside the ‘hats & chunks’ tactic that have helped me gain a bit more control and calmness in my life. These are: The Evil D and Gremlins.
This blog will focus on The Evil D and in my next article I will focus on Gremlins (I know, I know, what a cliffhanger. Feels similar to the end of each episode of BBC One’s Bodyguard right?)
The Evil D
One of the earliest things I learnt on my journey into new working habits was that I was pretty good at planning out my day into the 90 minute chunks and I quite enjoyed working out what task I should take on in each chunk. So far, so good.
The thing I was terrible at was avoiding distractions. Was it really so awful to do a quick look at my emails? Surely sending a WhatsApp message to my husband to remind him to pick up both our kids from school wasn’t doing that much damage to my productivity? (My husband actually came home with just one of our children last week hence the need for the gentle reminder. True story.)
Turns out though that the habit we have all formed of working in a state of semi-distraction is potentially devastating to our performance. Devastating is a big word and I don’t use it lightly.
This is my new approach to any distractions - they are pure evil. I find this slightly melodramatic reframe of distractions helps me to fight back against them.
In isolation, one small distraction doesn’t feel like much. It’s just a harmless notification that’s popped up and made me completely lose my train of thought but surely it isn’t that bad? But the more I’ve learnt about the effect of these tiny distractions, the more I view them as horrible, evil Baddies.
Here are some of the things I’ve learnt that I hope justify my character assassination. (Yes, distractions are now a real, living thing in my mind. Complete with an evil ‘mwah,ha,ha’ laugh.)
Small but deadly
Interruptions can add up to do real damage to your work. According to a recent study, refocusing your efforts after just one interruption can take up to 23 minutes. That’s a really long time! That’s a whole third of the precious 90 minute chunk that I’ve worked hard to create in my day - and with one interruption, I run the risk of losing a third of it.
Not happening Evil D! Not on my watch.
Emails are Evil D’s most powerful weapon
Most of us get between 50-100 emails a day. Over 8 hours, that’s an interruption approximately every 5 to 10 minutes. When I added this thought to the 23 minutes above, it made me determined to switch off my emails for at least one chunk each day.
Our phones are Evil D’s protégé sent to us in disguise
Phones are like little gremlins in our pockets that demand constant attention. I’m viewing my phone from now on as a gremlin - super cute at first but then you discover an evil, destructive side once you spend more time with them. (Plus they both hate water.)
These gremlins are part of Evil D’s plan to completely destroy our brains. With our phones constantly in our hands, we spend the day mentally darting between one thing to another, between what’s happening on our screens and what’s actually going on in our lives, which is completely eroding our concentration and focus.
Evil D makes us feel bad
I’ve realised that on the days when I fight back the Evil D and lose myself in my work, I end the day on a high. I feel energised, positive and ready to take on the world. On the days when Evil D wreaks chaos, I end the day exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated. I’ve put just as much energy in, probably more, but ended the day with nothing to show for it.
I think this is the kicker learning for me. I look around and see too many people feeling stressed and anxious by their work. I think much of this stress comes from the fact that we are flitting our attention between a million different things. We are constantly distracted. We are living our lives juggling activities but rarely fully engaging in any of them. The consequence is that we settle for a pale version of the possible.
The super smart psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (MC to his mates) named the moment when you lose yourself in your work as “flow”. He defined it simply as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” His work shows that as human beings, we are at our best when deeply immersed in something. In a state of flow, we produce our best work but we also gain the most satisfaction - we feel good.
I’m determined to make sure some of my 90 minute chunks are absolutely distraction free. Because I want to enjoy moments of flow. I want to lose myself in my work and stop my head worrying about all the other spinning plates for a while. I want to enjoy those moments of satisfaction and pride in my work. I don’t want to settle for a pale version of the possible - I want the full colour version please. So back off Evil D.