In an era of constant distraction, it can be difficult to prioritise our responsibilities over short-term, immediate pleasures.
It can be a challenge to deal with important things that are vying for our attention if our focus is always wandering.
But it’s not just focus that we often seem to lack in getting work done.
Scott Belsky in Making Ideas Happen stresses that “organisation is just as important as ideas when it comes to making an impact.”
In his book, Scott uses a very simple equation to illustrate how crucial organisation is to making an impact through your efforts. The equation is:
Creativity x Organisation = Impact
So let’s imagine a super creative person (creativity = 100) who struggles to organise himself (organisation = 0) and structure his time to funnel his creativity into something substantial:
100 x 0 = 0
Scott calls this person “someone who has loads of ideas but is so disorganised that no one particular ideas is fully realised.”
Well, let’s consider another person who might not be as creative as the creative genius, but is slightly more organised and can get more things done as a result. The equation looks like so:
50 x 2 = 100
Although this person isn’t as creative, he manages to get some work done and has more of an impact because he is just a little bit more organised than the creative genius mentioned earlier.
Here’s Scott on this:
“a shocking and perhaps unfortunate realisation emerges: someone with average creativity but stellar organisational skills will make a greater impact than the disorganised creative geniuses among us.”
I don’t know about you, but when I first read this I was absolutely blown away as to how crucial a productivity system can be in making your ideas happen.
It’s incredibly sad to think that some creative geniuses out there might not have a process or productivity system that would help them funnel their bursts of creativity and because of this lack of structure, they rarely get their ideas out there.
It’s also quite interesting to begin to think that a lot of the world’s most creative people might not actually be all that creative after all. They might not even be the best the world has to offer.
But they are more organised than the geniuses and that’s why their ideas are out there.
So how can we make sure that we become both a) focused so that we are most efficient in our work, and b) organised enough to make our ideas happen?
The answer is focus blocks.
Schedule blocks of time for uninterrupted focus
Cal Newport describes focus blocks as follows:
“It has you block off a substantial chunk of time, most days of the week, for applying sustained focus to your most important creative tasks.
This scheduling usually happens at the beginning of a new week or at the end of the previous week. The key twists is that you mark this time on your calendar like any other meeting.”
-Cal Newport, in Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind.
Just by actively committing to blocking off an hour or two for uninterrupted focus ahead of time will help you build some structure and focus into your work ethic.
This technique initially requires a little bit of discipline. Anything worthwhile doing in life does. When in these focus blocks, dedicate your undivided attention to the work at hand.
If you get distracted, it’s game over. Cal suggests to cancel your focus block and try again next time.
It’s easy to fall prey to distractions in the moment and to belittle these focus block. But don’t fall into the ‘mindset of the now‘. You scheduled this focus block with good reason, with a reason to get some quality work done.
What I like about focus blocks is that they are a ‘meeting with myself’ in some sense. This way, whenever I meet someone later who tried to get a hold of me during my focus block, I tell them that I already had a scheduled appointment. More on that here by Cal:
“People are used to the idea that they cannot demand your attention during times when you already have a scheduled appointment.
The focus block technique takes advantage of this understanding to buy you some time for undistracted focus without the need for excessive apology or explanation.”
A focus block doesn’t have to relate only to finishing quality work, though.
For instance, I choose to frame my morning and evening commute to university as a focus block for reading. This why I don’t mind travelling that much.
I get to read a book. It’s a focus block I have dedicated to reading.
Sure, sometimes I can’t focus. Especially on the morning train ride. But I always take a book out and try to read it.
Sometimes I manage to get out of my funk, sometimes I don’t and read only a couple of pages.
Most times though, I get a decent amount of reading done. Thanks to this habit, I manage to finish books that would’ve been otherwise half-read and lying around somewhere in my room for a tiny eternity.
Blocking off time for the specific purpose of dedicating it to uninterrupted focus is an important first step to organising your time for consistent maximum productivity.
But how do you make sure you make the most of your scheduled focus block?
If you want to learn some handy psychological tricks that will help you make the most of your focus blocks you should read this.
But you can’t be productive indefinitely so be mindful of how long you schedule your focus blocks for.
How long should these focus blocks be so that you maximise your productivity? You can read about that here.
P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more life-optimising stuff.