More Support for Focused Work

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Maura Thomas on attention management and focused work

Financial Times article about counteracting the effects of multitasking with focused work.

The need for office cultures that support focused work is in the spotlight.

I was recently interviewed for a Financial Times story about Cal Newport’s new book, “Deep Work.”

Newport is an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University. In his new book, he makes the case that we need stretches of uninterrupted concentration to do focused work — which ultimately delivers our most powerful results.

“Yet almost no one uses deep work any more,” Newport told the Financial Times. “Even if they wanted to, most workplace cultures make it near impossible. This is somewhat baffling to me.”

Instead, Newport says, our time at work gets consumed by “shallow activity,” such as checking email.

I agree with Newport that we have to train our minds for focused work. In the Financial Times story, I explained that multitasking has shortened our attention spans. But we can build them back up with the mental “workout” of doing one thing at a time without being disturbed. Even a couple of 15-minute deep-focus sessions per hour can make a difference.

Newport’s concept of focused work is very much aligned with my approach of attention management, which I’ve been speaking and writing about for almost a decade. In a workplace full of high-tech distractions, traditional ideas about time management are no longer enough to help us be productive. We must also master controlling our attention so that distractions like email don’t keep us from doing our most important work.

You can learn more about attention management and focused work in my TEDx talk, my book “Personal Productivity Secrets” and on my blog. And I’ll continue to explore the topic in my upcoming book, “Work Without Walls: An Executive’s Guide to Attention Management in the Age of Distraction.” (Email me if you’d like a preview.)

Try focused work out for yourself this week: Turn off email and other notifications and put out your own version of a “Do Not Disturb” sign – whether that’s closing your office door or wearing headphones to signal to colleagues that you’re occupied. Even if you can grab only a brief stretch of uninterrupted time for deep work, I think you’ll quickly see how attention management can boost your productivity.

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Comments

  1. I personally think this way of thinking about attention is overly simplistic. There are many ways of thinking and working that add value besides “focus,” and disparaging technology is entirely beside the point.

    I read Newport’s book and wrote my review, with counterpoints, here: https://medium.com/forte-labs/this-is-my-review-of-cal-newport-s-new-book-deep-work-in-which-he-makes-the-case-that-cultivating-b0d0aa7c3d8e#.od5n9sv9i

    • Maura Thomas says:

      I take your point, although I think his point is that we have gone so far in the “distraction” direction, that it’s not necessary to caution us about “too much focus.” That is a problem for very few people these days, so perhaps Newport treats it as a foundational assumption.

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