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Top-Shelf Tip No. 72:

"Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible."

Francis Of Assisi

Four Ways To Take Back Control

How often do you check your email, voicemail or social media profiles during your work day?

In a recent post, blogger Sarah Ninivaggi refers to Georgetown University professor Cal Newport, a computer scientist and author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in Distracted World, who argues that multitasking and constant distractions are seriously affecting today's workers.

As a result, it usually feels like there's never enough time to accomplish everything, and trying to focus on multiple things at once reduces our ability to be in the moment and contribute our best work.

Newport's solution is a strategy he calls "Deep Work." In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share Ninivaggi's four-step summary of the professor's work strategies.

1. Block off time to focus. If you put it in your calendar, it's easier to commit to a distraction-free block of time. Get to work before everyone else or find an hour when you can sit in a quiet place and knock out an assignment or make headway on a project. Set ground rules for that time, such as no emails or Twitter breaks. Don't wait to get a good idea or bolt of inspiration to start working. Instead, facilitate inspiration by setting aside time to work hard.

2. Set boundaries to stay on track. In many office cultures, we often try to look very busy so everyone else knows we're working. Newport calls this "busyness as a proxy for activity" —basically, doing lots of stuff in a visible manner but not actually getting a whole lot done. We all get sucked into situations like scrambling to be the first to answer the boss's email. But stopping what you're doing to answer every message that comes through makes it a lot more difficult and time-consuming to jump back into the task you were previously working on, even if you don't realize it. Rather than keeping email always open in front of you, try to wait 30 minutes in between inbox checks. It will probably turn out that there's not much that can't wait a half hour for your response. You don't have to be a hermit or risk getting in trouble, but you can take back some control over your workday to accomplish a bigger goal.

3. Know when to disconnect. As we're starting to learn more about the benefits of taking time to disconnect, it's not uncommon for people to "detox"—going device-free for one day a week or for a whole month. Newport takes a different approach. Instead, he says you should schedule time when you are allowed to go online, such as during lunch or once an hour. That way you give yourself a break from focusing, rather than trying to take a break from distraction. For this to work, it's crucial that you stick to your rule. This means no defaulting to your phone to kill time while you wait for your friend at the bar or for a meeting to start, unless it's during a scheduled break. Making this a habit gives your brain a workout in resisting mindless distraction, even when you really want to give in to boredom with something more entertaining.

4. Schedule your free time, too. You know that one friend who seems to magically have time for a demanding job, a fabulous social life, travel, volunteering, and more, all while looking great and getting eight hours of sleep a night? Well, she's not necessarily any more amazing than you, but she probably does schedule her time more carefully. Just like you plan your workday, plan what you'll do in your downtime. These things don't necessarily have to be productive. You can plan to do relaxing activities like watching a show, taking a bath or calling a friend, all of which give your brain a chance to relax and recover. But you'll probably find that by paying more attention to what you're doing, you'll free up time to dig in to other interests too.

Take your productivity level and your career goals to the next level by implementing these Deep Work strategies.

Source: Sarah Ninivaggi is a writer, editor and digital media specialist.

Compiled by Cassandra Johnson



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