Interruptions Kill Your Productivity. Here’s How to Avoid Them.

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This morning I’d like to share a few tricks I use to combat one of the biggest productivity-killers in my life. I’m nearly certain you deal with it as well.

The problem is context-switching.

Whenever I switch my attention from one task to something else, it takes a long time to get back into a productivite state of mind.

It’s not just the time the interruption takes itself. It’s all the extra time it takes to get back into the groove once I switch back.

There’s even a fancy term for this: It’s called a cognitive switching penalty.

When a co-worker asks you:

“Hey, do you have 5 minutes?”

…they’re actually asking for about 20 minutes.

These cognitive switching penalties have become even more of a threat in the past year, as my team has grown to 11 people and I’ve had to embrace the CEO role more than I ever planned to in the past.

Now, my average day is peppered with:

  • Decisions I need to make in order to unblock team members
  • Fires and small emergencies of all types (our checkout platform is down! A customer can’t login! There’s a bug in the app I shared with 30,000 people!)
  • Requests for my attention from tons of outside parties – emails, texts, DMs, extremely persistent carrier pigeons pecking at my office windows

If I’m not careful, my entire day can turn into one big, sticky pool of cognitive-switching penalty goo – slowing me down and threatening my company’s future.

You almost certainly deal with this problem as well, so here I’ll share a few tricks I’ve learned for dealing with it. I’ll start with personal hacks, then share a few tips for aligning a team around this problem afterward.

  • Log out of social media apps when you need to do deep work. Take note of the ones that tempt you the most. For me, it’s Twitter – so I need to be logged out when I’m committed to a task.
  • Close communication tools when you’re working. Don’t set yourself up for failure by allowing notifications and messages to grab your attention so easily.
  • Put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode. iOS now has handy options for turning of Do Not Disturb for a set time, like an hour. This is perfect for deep work sessions.
  • Batch small tasks, like answering Slack messages and emails. If you can do these all in one big batch, you’ll free up huge blocks of time for deep work.

This last one will sound a little silly, but…

…picture a person you really admire (even if they’re not real!) and let that inspire you to work with more focus.

I like to picture Rocky Balboa in the ​training montage in Rocky IV (with that sweet training montage music playing).

Role models, mantras, and imagery can legimately help put you in the right frame of mind. Don’t discount them.

As Ben Horowitz says, the most important job of a founder is to manage their own psychology.

Even if you’re not a founding a company, this is still true.

If you want to learn more about multi-tasking and how to avoid its pitfalls, watch this video:

  • My team and I have built an async-first culture. This means that Slack messages are not expected to be answered immediately. The whole point is to encourage deep work sessions, which are the most important thing.
  • If a team member needs something urgently, they pick up the phone. Phone calls and text/Slack messages serve different purposes – take advantage of that!
  • Most of my team is remote, but Tony (my editor) and I work in-house. There, it’s more important to actually say, “Hey, I’m wiring in for a bit” in order to prevent interruptions.

If you’re building a team, one of the most important things you can do is set expectations around communication and get everyone bought-in on those expectations.

It’s also crucial to build a culture of deep work. A ton of companies have people who just spend all day sending messages without ever getting into deep-work mode – and that’s a recipe for getting nothing done.

Want to share these insights? Here’s a tweet that contains the gist:

Cognitive switching penalties make small interruptions turn into major productivity-killers. Do everything you can to get rid of them.

For personal work, do this by logging out of social media when working, using Do Not Disturb, and informing co-workers and friends when you need to focus.

For your team, build expectation around communication that promote deep work. Avoid the trap of making people expect instant responses to everything.

Three tools I made that you might find helpful:

  • LAUNCHING SOON: ​Flylighter​ – the ultimate web clipper and information-capture tool for Notion.
  • ​Ultimate Brain​ – a complete productivity system for Notion. UB brings notes, tasks, projects, and goals into one tool so you don’t have to juggle tons of productivity apps anymore. Used by over 25,000 productive Notion nerds.
  • ​Creator’s Companion​ – the best way to plan and manage content projects across YouTube, blogs, podcasts, and social channels. A single Notion template for producing higher-performing content, more frequently.

🤔 Have an UB Question?

Fill out the form below and I’ll answer as soon as I can! ~Thomas

🤔 Have a Question?

Fill out the form below and I’ll answer as soon as I can! ~Thomas