Practise being unavailable

Focus time is crucial

I talked in a previous post about how you can ‘practise being unavailable’ by foreshadowing. By the way, you can catch up on the posts in this series by clicking the links on this page: The Review Time Advent Calendar. Right now I want to delve into that a bit more deeply. It is vitally important that we get focus time in our lives. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Deep Work by Cal Newport – a really worthwhile read. In fact, scheduling some focus time is one of the most important things we can do. I’d go as far as to say that focus time could be the difference between success and failure.

Therefore, we’re not being devious if we do what it takes to get some focus time. In some circumstances, that’s going to mean tempering other people’s expectations. I’m talking about home and work, plus any voluntary roles you have.

Have you heard of strategic incompetence?

This is a strategy practised by some people – consciously or otherwise – who pretend not to be able to do something, or refuse to update their skills (I.T. skills figure a great deal) so that they won’t be called on to do whatever it is. Clearly, strategic incompetence could become rather devious – leading to an imbalance in the workloads of team members – and if it’s endemic in an organisation, then a cultural shift is necessary. That’s not what I’m talking about here – because some people use strategic incompetence in a perfectly legitimate way, so let’s learn from them.

They’re the people who stick to what they’ve decided they’re going to do, and take pains to protect those boundaries, occasionally calling on strategic incompetence as one of weapons in their arsenal.  Focus time is so important, it’s worth developing these defenses. For example, why go to a training session on Powerpoint, when you hardly ever have to give presentations? Well, if you’ve got plenty of time, why not? You’ll pick up some skills, and you’ll use them one day, but if you’re craving focus time, then remember that you only have 168 hours in a week – apportion them wisely.

Practise being unavailable by trying the following strategies:

  1. When you are available, be very available. Don’t multitask. Don’t look at your phone. Listen, ask questions, be proactive, be present.
  2. Go and speak to people face-to-face. Invite them for a coffee. Arrange a date with your other half. Be proactive in seeking out the people you need to speak to, or in arranging time to see friends and family.
  3. At work, introduce slots in your day when you’re available for queries, and slots (say, for instance, 10 – 11 and 3-4) when you will answer email.
  4. Don’t answer email straight away, especially if you’re cc-ed.
  5. Take lunch breaks away from work, so you’re not tempted to work while you eat.
  6. Any kind of hobby or interest – and you can use ‘focus time’ as an interest – helps to temper people’s expectations. Then you can say things like this: “I’ve got my art class tonight so Dad’s cooking dinner.” “I’m walking the dog so Nan’s taking you to school.” “I’ve negotiated ‘focus time’ with the boss so I’m skipping this meeting.”
  7. Use deadlines. We all have them, so why move yours to accommodate others? Well, in practice you probably are flexible with deadlines, and very accommodating, but once in a while, say “I’m working to a tight deadline but I’ll get back to you by the end of the week.”
  8. Have a bath night when you get to soak undisturbed with the bathroom door locked.
  9. Go for Sunday afternoon walks, or take yourself off to an exercise class, or find another way to become unavailable once a week.
  10. Swap with other people. This depends on your situation. It might mean someone else in the family looking after the kids, then returning the favour. It might mean swapping duties with someone at work so they get some focus time, and asking the same in return.

The point is this: if people are used to you taking focus time, being careful with your deadlines, and negotiating your time, then they’re more likely to respect your need for review time when it comes up.

Next up: The Brain Download

 


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