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Dave Cheong on staying focused at work

18 Ways to Stay Focused at Work

In this post from last August, Dave Cheong pointed out some of the hazards of working in a cube farm, and he proposes some handy tips for wresting back your attention from a room full of interruptions and distractions. I think a few of these tips are big winners.

Allocate time slots colleagues can interrupt you...Instead of having people stop by your desk every 10 mins and asking you questions, let them know of a time in the day, say between 2-4pm you can be interrupted. At all other times, you can really get some work done...

Apply time boxing...Instead of working at something till it is done, try working on it for a limited period, say 30 mins. By that time, the task is either completed or you allocate another time slot, perhaps in another day, to pick it up again...

Find the best time to do repetitive and boring tasks...For example, I’m more alert at the start of the day, so it’s better to work on things which require brain power early. Working on boring tasks that can be done via auto-pilot are better left towards the end of the day when I’m usually tired.

I realize that many of these ideas assume a lot of autonomy and control over your work day as well as how you conduct it -- obviously not every career is conducive to the enforcement of what amounts to "office hours" -- but I think that's kind of the point as well as the irony and the big, bottom-line challenge.

If the typical knowledge worker were removing shrapnel, driving a fire truck, or piloting a shrimp boat, people would know to leave him or her alone; clearly that person is "working." But if someone is "just typing with headphones on," there's a seemingly small disincentive to, say, just ask a quick question or even conduct the equivalent of a 5-minute meeting.

It's really up to each of us to learn these tricks and (one hopes) to eventually develop some structures -- bulwarks against interruption and attention larceny -- and to encourage an atmosphere where all our colleagues can know, respect, and support one another's need to minimize unnecessary distraction.

For now, we've got headphones and an icy stare, and I guess that's better than nothing.

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




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