Can you relate to a crazy busy schedule? You know, the kind that makes us wish we had more hours in the day to actually get everything done for once? If like most of us you can relate to that, I’m sure you find yourself doing a lot of multi-tasking to try to keep all of the balls in the air while juggling your many obligations. You know how it is. You’re working on an important project and then out of the corner of your eye, you notice that an email just came in or a notification just popped up on your smart phone. Naturally, your attention becomes averted. You might even find yourself suddenly pulled in a different direction while your important project gets put on the back burner.
While this type of behavior might seem ’normal’ in our fast-paced, hectic world, nothing quite drives home the message that multi-tasking is not the most productive way to get things done than going into ’airplane mode’ (you know, when you’ve boarded a plane and are getting ready for take off and the flight attendant makes an announcement that everyone needs to put their electronics in airplane mode -you can still use your devices, however, you no longer receive phone calls, text messages, emails, or any live updates from the outside world).
I personally LOVE airplane mode. It never ceases to amaze me how much more I can get done while flying 30k feet in the sky. Depending on the length of the flight, I can easily bang out multiple tasks that had previously been on my to-do list forever: blog posts, research projects, catching up on some reading. It’s quite magical how much work gets done in this mode.
There’s a lot to be said about being distraction-free. Studies show that it takes about 20 minutes to get back to the level of concentration we had achieved in a task we were doing prior to being interrupted. If you think about how we get interrupted by emails, phone calls, texts or other notifications once every 10 minutes, it’s no wonder we never even have a chance to reach that level of concentration in the first place, let alone get back to it. And this explains how despite the fact that we work longer and harder, not everything gets done. This is what makes airplane mode such a beautiful thing. Those imminent interruptions have been eliminated so you can really focus on the task at hand. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we need to fly all over the world to get things done (although what a lovely sentiment for those of us with wanderlust). But simply by applying that same level of discipline to your everyday work, the same effects can be achieved in a mock "airplane mode."
Here are a few tips on how to bring this focused and productive magic to your everyday life.
1. Make an Airplane Mode Appointment on Your Calendar
When this dedicated time comes up, commit to blocking out all outside distractions so that you can focus on something that requires your undivided attention. If you can swing a daily appointment for an hour or more - great! If once or twice a week is all you have -that is great too. The point is just to carve out the time, commit to it, and get things done. Once you see how much more work you are getting done, you may even be inspired to make more appointments for yourself. But, whatever you do, make sure you treat this appointment like you would treat any other important client meeting (or other important meetings) and do not cancel it (unless you absolutely have to ... and even then make sure you re-schedule). Just showing up is the hard part, but then the magic happens from there.
2. Commit to Turning off All Distractions
Depending on what your day to day looks like will determine how you can go about accomplishing this task. Think about what your typical distractions are. Maybe it’s emails coming in. If so, take your email server offline (this way you can still access emails in case you need them for reference or if your focus for the day is to catch up on past messages). You will no longer get the pop up messages or notifications alerting you to the new messages that continue to come through. Maybe you will turn your phone to actual "airplane mode" so that you do not gets calls, texts, and notifications. A big one is to close your web browsers (unless you absolutely need one for research or the like). It’s easy to get sucked into social media and all of a sudden you are watching 30 minutes of adorable cat videos instead of working on an important task. Figure out what your work-deterrents are and get them out of the way during your committed "airplane mode" appointment.
3. Let Everyone Know
Some of us might actually feel a little anxiety at the thought of people not being able to immediately get a hold of us during this logged-off time. Believe it or not, in the not so distant history, people weren’t available 24/7. We would send letters in the mail and it would take days for people to get them. Before cell phones, there were pagers or answering machines and you’d wait forever to hear back. Our society has since shifted to one of instant-gratification and uber-connectedness. While there are some benefits to this, there are also a lot of drawbacks. To ease some of your apprehension about being off-the-grid, let any loved ones, friends, or bosses who are used to getting a hold of you urgently know that you are going to be disconnecting at specific times. Then, you can take a deep breath and feel good knowing that the world will continue to go on just fine despite the fact that you’ll be offline for an hour.
4. Be Prepared and Ready
Now that you have this magical time carved out for yourself, put it to the best use possible. This means that you should have a plan of attack when you ’show up’ for your appointment. Have a list of your top priorities in front of you and show up with a mindset to dive right in and get ’em done. Know that the clock is working against you (you only have an hour until you are back online), so make it a fun race to see how quickly you can get your quality work done.
Make sure you take a few moments to notice how much you’ve really accomplished. It’s fun to keep an actual to-do list or write task lists in your planner so that you can cross things off when they’re done. Take notice at just how much you’ve crossed off during your "airplane mode" appointments. Isn’t it amazing how much more you can get accomplished when you are focused and have no distractions? Now, give yourself a pat on the back. You rock! And, definitely give yourself extra credit as you make this a habit and the results start compounding exponentially. As you become more self-aware of the time-suckers and distractions in your life, you may naturally start avoiding them ... even without a calendar reminder to tell you to.
6. Plug Back in
Once you are ready to return to the "real world," you will undoubtedly be bombarded by a host of emails, voice mails, text messages, Facebook updates and other notifications. But, now you can face them with a newfound sense of peace and purpose. And, perhaps you will approach them a little differently (i.e when those notifications pop up, you don’t have to stop everything you are doing to look at them).
Hopefully, you’ll have found some inspiration to become more focused and less distracted in your work by applying these simple yet powerful ideas. The hard part is showing up, but once you do, I promise the results are well worth the effort. Enjoy the newfound productivity!