For years I’ve been telling my clients that each interruption they deal with during the day is costing them, on average, 10 minutes. Well, it looks like I’ve been wrong. It’s more like 20 minutes! According to research in Winifred Gallagher’s new book, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, it can take the brain up to 20 minutes to recover from an interruption. So, if you’re dealing with only six unnecessary interruptions during your day, you’re losing up to two hours. Two hours – gone. Two hours you could be working. Do that math over the course of a year! Two hours you could be spending with your loved ones or golfing or biking or on your boat. You get the idea. But there is something you can do about it.
The research in Gallagher’s book makes crystal clear that the idea of multi-tasking is a myth. Our brains cannot multi-task. They can only focus on one thing at a time. And as we age, our ability to jump quickly from one task to another diminishes. Maybe you’ve experienced this myth first-hand by accidentally hitting “Reply to all” while talking on the phone and returning emails.
According to Gallagher, one of the first steps in gaining the laser-like focus we need to be most effective is to start our work day by concentrating for 90 minutes on our most important tasks. Instead of a Power Hour, think Power 90. After 90 minutes, you need a break, so you can answer emails and return phone calls. Schedule another Power 90 in the afternoon, if you can. Gallagher also suggests wearing ear plugs during your Power 90 if you are easily distracted by voices or sounds. I began using ear plugs to block out distractions when I was studying for the barin 1992. I recommend this strategy to my clients, as well. These two strategies alone can dramatically improve your focus and productivity.
Gallagher says that attention is a finite resource, like money. The bottom line is that we have to make choices about where we “spend” our attention. As William James said, “My experience is what I attend to.” So get really clear about what’s most important to you and spend your attention on those things.