Dawid’s Blog
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Dawid’s Blog

It’s not a notification. It’s an interruption. Change your smartphone settings.

This is another Medium post on multi-tasking and just how bad it is for you.

These interruptions rob you of this, deep work:

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep – spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way. – Cal Newport

By now you all know the science, and if you don’t, long story short – multi-tasking is impossible (yes, for women too), it’s biologically incompatible (we aren’t designed this way), you may be able to do two things at once but you can only focus on one thing (and those two things are being done worse than they could), and doing multiple things at once just means you’re doing everything shitly (not sure if that’s a word).

Smart phone notifications are not notifications, they’re interruptions.

This isn’t an adjective or adverb, I mean this in the most literal sense. You’re not being notified, you’re being interrupted. There is a tax to get started on your original activity, typically 20% – 100% of output in the original task is lost. 100% meaning that you don’t continue the original task at all.

The only notification you should get is an emergency call from your spouse, and that is worth being interrupted for. The rest of the ping beeps and bops should all be disabled. Your phone is a spectacular servant, but a horrible master, and we worship it and follow it’s every command.

The big problem with this metaphor is that servants don’t typically share traits with crack cocaine and aren’t designed to be addictive. So flipping this around is very very hard.

Interruptions are easier than work. They can feel like work, but aren’t.

We like the interruption because deep work is tough. It requires full concentration and shutting out everything else. It takes a while to get into a state of flow, but it requires your complete attention.

I’ve written about the dangers of smart phone addiction and why I don’t use a phone on weekends, and have abandoned social media altogether.

I know several high performers who respond to emails and SMS’s almost instantly. How do they do this and still have quality output? They’re also the ones who send emails at 1am and wear their long unproductive work hours as a badge of honour. They’re also overweight, tired, and nothing I aspire to.

Here are some things I’ve done to claim back my workday. And life.

  • Firstly – We’re paid to produce good, high quality work and to produce new ideas and prove that they are possible. That gives me the excuse to follow this list. We’re not paid to be contactable in microseconds. I’m paid to do deep work.
  • I’m hard to get in touch with, deliberately so.
  • All notifications are disabled on my phone.
  • My phone lives on Do Not Disturb
  • I’m never signed into Lync/Hangouts/Skype
  • If I’m battling with willpower I’ll turn off my smartphone and turn on my dumb phone. A $20 phone that only my wife has the number for. (For emergencies)
  • Only check emails at certain times of day (you know you should be doing this. So start doing it.)
  • Open plan offices are terrible. Make sure you can find somewhere quiet to do deep work. My secret is to literally go to the library and turn off all connections.
  • I’ve disabled voicemail. Send me a text or email me. Often the problem goes away.
  • When I realise I can’t concentrate, I go for a walk.
  • Ruthlessly decline meetings. Do it unapologetically. Unless you’re asking me questions, or I’m presenting, please don’t ask me to attend. Summary emails are fine, bullet points are fine. Ruthlessly. Decline. Meetings.
  • Block out Deep Work time on your calendar every morning. Only accept invites by exception. A customer is an exception.
  • Look at your calendar each morning and see which meetings you can cancel, aren’t ready for, or they aren’t ready for, or can be done over email. “Here’s my summary x,y,z – let me know if you still need the meetings” works well.
  • When you’re tired, take a break. If you’ve had enough, call it a day and rest.
  • I’ve disabled read receipts on whatsapp and iMessage.
  • Ruthlessly assess all the work that is coming your way. Delegate and decline anything that isn’t in line with your “One Thing”.
  • This will be uncomfortable, try it and see if anyone complains. It’s not easy to do this, I still fail regularly.

I estimate that this buys me at least 5 extra hours per day. I don’t have social media, I decline as many meetings as possible, I don’t let my phone distract me and my goals for each day are clear. That’s worth at least 5 hours as well as peace of mind. I don’t fill those 5 extra hours with busy work. I run, read, write, spend time with my kids, play board games with my spouse. I love it.

Please try it

Disable your smartphone notifications! Do it now! We need all of us to be in this together. Focused, calm, controlled output. Imagine the society we’d be if all of us could work deeply without uncontrolled cosmetic distractions.

We’d work better, sleep better, work less, be healthier, better looking and be happier. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

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