October 07, 2009, 5:10 PM — They tell us to “work smarter, not harder” but working harder is, oddly, easier than working smarter. Why? Because no one gives full attention to anything anymore. My slogan is “always connected, always distracted.”
When you're ready to work smarter, try some focus tricks. First, ignore e-mail for two hours at a time. Really. Ignore all the e-mail, period. Closing your e-mail application works best, but if you can't because you need your calendar or task list, ignore new e-mails. If you have a noisy message alert, turn it off and leave it off.
Those two hours will, once you get used to the lack of interruptions, provide great benefits to planning and problem solving. Don't expect miracles the first few times you try it, because you'll have to train yourself to focus. Keep going and the rewards will be great.
Second, hide from people. Cubicles and open door policies are great for some things, but not for focus and concentration. Interruptions kill attention and creativity.
Finally, turn off your cell phone. Don't just set it to vibrate but turn it off. Understand you'll turn it on again soon, but when it's off, don't think about making or receiving calls.
Will these things make you feel anti-social? Yes, at first, but you'll get over it. The world won't end if you disconnect for an hour or two. Performance gains through multitasking are a myth, because studies show people do a worse job all around when trying to do several things at once. Block out distractions, focus, and work smarter.