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What was I doing?

Posted by Sharon Hudson, Director, Talent Tools on 8 March 2020
What was I doing?

Work Interuptus -  how to move to the next focus, and back, without losing the plot

I am a fan of Cal Newport's book, Deep Work - Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, but, I often find it difficult to pick-up where I left off when my Deep Work session is interrupted. I am even interrupted by another interruption before finishing the task of the first interruption! 

When I get back to my original Deep Work, a day or week later, I find I have completely lost the plot and have no idea of what I was up to, and sometimes what I was trying to achieve. Damn! Throw the hands up in despair, and I think I hear Netflix calling!

Do you often get interrupted at work? Well, I have found a  new "Tiny Habit",  another book I highly recommend Tiny Habits - The Small Changes That Change Everything
thank you, BJ Fogg, which has saved my work sanity, so I want to share with you, too.

It's straightforward and takes me, maybe two minutes. I cannot believe I didn't think of it myself, well, I did actually, but I did it wrong. I have been making a mental "note to self", but, I couldn't recall it when I was ready to resume.

This solution comes from Sophie Leroy, an assistant professor in the UW Bothell School of Business, who tells us, "If you have attention residue, you are operating with part of your cognitive resources being busy.

Attention residue has a wide range of impacts. In essence, you might not be as efficient in your work; you might not be as good a listener, you may get overwhelmed more easily, you might make errors, or struggle with decisions and your ability to process information."

So here is the solution.

Take a minute when interrupted to create a "ready-to-resume" plan to leave with the project.

This helps you disengage and move on, avoiding "attention residue" that is, continuing to worry and think about the last work when you need to pivot fully to the new task. 

But, what I like best, is when I resume my interrupted Deep Work session, there is my "Resume Plan", telling me where I left off, what I was doing when I stopped, and my next action. Brilliant!

Now, I love this, Ms Leroy likens the human brain to an early computer that would slow down or perform poorly if too many Windows were running. That's how we are operating when we need to leave one incomplete task to work on something new. Our brains find it hard to switch away from incomplete, interrupted work. We leave that "Window" open for when we return, which for me, could be a day or even a week later.

And having too many Windows open in our brains, makes it hard to focus on the intervening work. I am still thinking about Task A while trying to do Task B; and I don't have (and either do you) the cognitive capacity to process those two tasks at the same time and do a perfect job on both tasks, it's not cognitively possible.

Focusing on one task at a time until completion reduces "attention residue"; the way that having multiple responsibilities and obligations on our mind splits our attention in a way that reduces our overall performance.

Working in this way, Sophie suggests, "others will come to understand that you need a minute to gather your thoughts before turning your attention to the interrupting task."

"We have to proactively manage the way we transition between tasks to help our attention be more focused and less distracted or divided among everything we have on our plate," she added. "The ready-to-resume plan is one simple way to help when dealing with frequent interruptions", without losing the plot.

Additionally, we help the person who interrupts us because we will be more present in that interaction, and our input will be of higher quality.

Just brilliant!

Workplace Wellbeing and PERMAH at Talent Tools



Author:Sharon Hudson, Director, Talent Tools
Tags:Resilience at WorkWorkplace WellbeingWellbeingPERMAHAccomplishment

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