6/02 — Staying focused with interruptions

I’ve been sticking with my new to do experiment for over two weeks now, and I’m very, very happy with it. It’s helped keep me on track and focused, and has helped me identify some parts of my work process that I really need to work on.

There are still hitches, though. Right now my focus is crap because I got some bad news over the weekend, and I’m really distracted. (I credit my ‘to do today’ list with keeping me working at all.) And I had a really unfocused day only a few days into the experiment, when I woke up to a big ‘can you do this today’ task from my boss.

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It really threw me off — I can incorporate changes in plan if my plan is very loose, but apparently if I already have the day planned, even just at the level of ‘do these five things’, something like that can really mess me up.

I got through the last-minute task just fine, and I managed to do most of the rest of my list, but my focus was really bad and I had to keep yanking myself back on track. I did wind up putting off one task from that day to the next day — really not bad, since it was about the same size as the task I got assigned — but I’d like to figure out how to plan my five tasks and still leave mental space for last-minute changes like this.

Fortunately Dani doesn’t do this to me often (and never when she doesn’t have to), so it’s not a pressing problem. I don’t know how to deal with surprise tasks without getting really fuzzy-headed, but I have some theories.

  • I can take a task of equal size off of my today list before I even start for the day. This will leave me with the same number and scope of tasks, even if one of them isn’t the one I’d planned on.
  • I can add to my focus techniques — taking a few moments to breathe and meditate before each task, making sure my music is conducive to what I’m doing, remembering to take my breaks.
  • I can put the surprise task out of my mind and do one or two of the things already on my list, and then deal with the new task once I have some work done for the day.

Now that I have a plan in hand, or at least the beginnings of one, I feel better about being able to deal gracefully with interruptions in the future. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m optimistic.

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(Amusingly enough, writing this post flowed really, really smoothly until I got to the third point. I couldn’t think of a thing to put there, and I hate making only two points in a list — it feels very unfinished.

So I went to help Dani figure out something she was working on. In the process I wound up explaining to her what I was doing and why it was a good time for me to take a break from it for a moment, and from that came my third point. Instant proof of concept!)

3 Comments on “6/02 — Staying focused with interruptions”


  1. Maybe include “today’s emergency/surprise priority” as a standard entry somewhere on every “to do today” list? That way you have time and mental space pre-allotted for it every day. Then if it’s not needed after all, you can use the extra time and energy for clearing up yesterday’s overruns, or getting ahead a little with something else, or just chilling out.

    montuos on 2 Jun 2011, 1:53 pm (Link | Reply)

  2. Holy crap, that’s BRILLIANT. Thank you!

    Kate on 2 Jun 2011, 1:57 pm (Link | Reply)

  3. Oh I like the idea of planning in surprises. Very nice.

    MakingSpace on 3 Jun 2011, 3:41 pm (Link | Reply)

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