The human need for connection

Paying attention to our loved ones is the lifeblood of our relationships. The yearning for connection and communication runs deep in the human soul and nothing can take its place.

And given the modern tendency towards distraction and multitasking, it is now more challenging than ever to give our significant others our full attention.

Our go-to relationship expert Dr. Gottman has found that happy couples respond to each other’s need for attention by responding to "bids for connection".

According to Dr. Gottman, "it’s not the depth of intimacy in conversations that matters. Maybe it doesn’t even matter whether couples agree or disagree. Maybe the important thing is how these people pay attention to each other, no matter what they’re talking about or doing."

In other words, successful couples are attentive. They listen, and they put their phones down when the other person wants their attention.

So one of the simplest ways to improve our relationships is by ...

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Continuous partial attention

The lack of ability to focus does not only impact our work lives of course.

Many of us today are living (and working) in a state of continuous partial attention. Instead of giving our attention to the one thing that’s most important right now, our attention is effectively in radar mode — we are constantly scanning our environments for "the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment," as Linda Stone of The Attention Project describes it.

And switching from task to task and scanning our environment can be exhausting and stressful.

And there is also something bigger at stake here …

Our attention is the conduit that connects us to our life and work, to what’s happening in this moment. It allows us to witness our own lives, so to speak.

And when our attention is divided — whether by multitasking, by falling into this state of continuous partial attention, or by simple distractions — our...

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Flow and boring work

Now it’s true that the state of flow is often associated with doing something you enjoy. But that’s not what it’s all about.
Just think: Have you ever done something that you really love, but you weren’t in flow while doing it? Maybe your mind was actually occupied with thoughts of something else the entire time, so you "missed" a moment that should have brought you great joy? Of course. We all have.

On the other hand, have you ever been able to just "lose yourself" while doing something that you really don’t love to do?

I can think of many things: accounts, billing, actually anything to do with numbers, sorting socks after laundry and a whole host of other things.

I do not enjoy of any of the tasks above but I find that when I stop running from them,  just "settle in" and do what needs to be done, I can actually enjoy it. Of course I do not think that "I wish I could do this every day!" but I...

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But emails are so important for my work!

One of the biggest reservations that come up with the concept of time blocking are from those of us who are accountable to others for our time.

This sounds something like this:

My boss expects instant answers to emails

Emails contain important information for me to get my work done.

Here’s the thing: when our workday is run by external forces, it is so easy to lose sight of our own goals.

Here is how Cal Newport would address these common concerns:

Periods of open-ended reactivity can be blocked off like any other type of obligation.

Even if we are blocking most of our day for reactive work, for example, the fact that we are controlling our schedule will allow us to dedicate some small blocks (perhaps at the beginning of the day) for deeper pursuits and meaningful work of high quality, whether it is learning, self-growth or content creation.
In other words, we are being intentional about being available to others, bosses, clients and other stake holders at set...
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The problem with open ended

We have been discussing how time blocking can help us focus and be more productive.

A huge benefit of focus and time blocking is that it helps counteract perfectionism.

Those of us who have tendencies towards perfectionism will be able to relate.

We can keep working on projects and never deliver them, ship them or press send.

And open-ended timelines are a perfectionist’s worst enemy. With more time, we can always tweak and improve what we are working on and this results in spending way more time on a single project than is optimal. In fact, we can end up in a situation where nothing is ever done because it is never perfect.

Perfectionism also prevents us from sharing our work out in the world where it might actually do some good rather than sit with us and endure endless iterations.

Do you know what I am talking about?

With time blocking we give ourselves a set time to work on something. Once the time is up, we have to say "good enough", "ship" the product, share the content...

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Time blocking

We have been talking about how switching from task to task results in sub-optimal performance due to "attention residue" from the previous task.
Cal Newport suggests that in order to counteract this, we use "Time Blocking" to work on projects and tasks through the day and week.
The time blocking method asks you to divide your day into blocks of time. Each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task, or group of tasks, and only those specific tasks.
Instead of keeping an open-ended to-do list of things that you will get to as you are able to, the time blocking method invites you to start each day with a concrete schedule that lays out what you will work on and when.

I have been using time blocking and it’s variations for a while now (imperfectly, I might add!) and I have to say that when I work in time blocks, I notice several things that Cal Newport said would happen:

  • I don’t have to constantly make choices about what to focus on.
  • I am much...
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Attention Residue

I have been telling myself for years that I am great at multi-tasking. Like many women, I take pride in being able to juggle many tasks at the same time.
I am sure many of you (women in particular) can relate: we believe we are incredibly efficient by simultaneously listening to a conference call, writing a few e-mails, eating our salad at our desk and putting in loads of laundry between Zoom meetings.
I thought I had been doing a good job. That is until I came across this research a few years ago  . . .
Apparently almost no one is great at multitasking. What we are doing instead is "toggling our attention from task to task" – shifting our attention rapidly from one thing to another.
And this comes at a cost.
"The problem this research identifies with (multitasking) is that when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking...
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Shallow work

We have been discussing deep work. Let us compare it now with Shallow Work.
"Shallow Work, explains Cal Newport, is "Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tends to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate".

He goes on to say that Shallow work is very common in this "age of network tools". When we are constantly checking emails, for example, we are really not producing anything meaningful. In fact, we are working on other people’s agenda’s. He uses very powerful language to diss the addiction to email:

"knowledge workers (today) increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative—constantly sending and receiving e-mail messages like human network routers, with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction."
Ouch. That hit hard.
It may be wise to ask ourselves how much time we are spending as a human network router—constantly sending emails and otherwise...
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The value of Deep Work

Yesterday we talked about how distraction free effort (Deep Work) is both valuable and rare today. 
Deep work, writes Cal Newport, "is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity. We now know from decades of research in both psychology and neuroscience that the state of mental strain that accompanies deep work is also necessary to improve your abilities."
  • Deep work: Distraction-free concentration which
  • Stretches your cognitive capabilities to their limit
  • Creates new value.
  • Improves your skill and abilities (that is helps you grow).
And the products of this type of work are hard to replicate (in other words Deep Work is creative and makes an original contribution).
Make no mistake. The ability to focus and concentrate is becoming rare and therefore more valuable. This is what is going to matter in the days and years to come. Whether or not we can focus on the task at hand and make a meaningful...
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The challenge getting into FLOW

What is the very first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Do you reach for your phone and check in? Do you catch up with everything that you may have missed (on WhatsApp, email, social media) as you slept?

Do you do this even before you have connected with the Divine, your loved ones, yourself?

If you do, of course you are not alone. We are becoming increasingly tethered to our devices.
Our devices are of course useful in so many ways — they give us access to an unlimited wealth of information and make it easier to communicate with loved ones far away, to note just two basic benefits.
The convenience of having smart phones comes at a cost, however, especially in terms of focus on work and the ability to get into a flow state.

The magical (and increasingly rare) state of being so engaged in a creative activity or project that you lose track of time is essential for meaningful productivity. Cal Newport calls it Deep Work.

He defines Deep Work...

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