Instant interruption

I once had a manager who apologized if he didn’t respond to an instant message within 15 minutes.

While this might seem polite and courteous, it indicated that the manager thought of a 15-minute response to an instant message to be too slow. As his team, we proceeded to respond to his messages the moment they arrived.

Focused work requires long periods of no interruption – periods that are incompatible with responding to every instant message within 15 minutes. The expectation that instant messages need to receive an instant reply destroys the focus necessary for deep work.

Perhaps we need to stop calling it ‘instant messaging’.

Falling into focus

A walking meditation can be a revealing exercise.

The practice is to walk very slowly and pay deliberate attention to the 3 parts involved – lifting our leg, moving it forward and placing it back on the ground. Lift, move, place. Lift, move, place.

On doing this, I realized how everytime we lift our legs, we are actually unbalanced. When we place our foot down, we regain our balance. Walking, then, is the process of falling into the next step – a continually process of losing and regaining one’s balance. If this is hard to believe, try standing on one foot for a while.

We are all exceptionally good at walking, but not at paying undivided attention. Yet focusing the mind involves the same process – of momentarily losing one’s focus and regaining it.

Studies have examined the minds of long-time meditators who can maintain intense focus. They found that their minds are also prone to wandering. The key difference here is that they have trained their minds to regain focus as soon as it wanders away – much like we regain our balance with every step.

Walking and paying attention are both dynamic acts of continual recovery.

The magic of 30 mindful minutes

When faced with a crisis, a pressing problem, a dilemma or anything else that feels mentally overwhelming, follow this procedure.

  • Set a timer for 30 minutes
  • Settle down in a quiet place
  • Eliminate all sources of interruption and distraction
  • Open a blank piece of paper (or an empty text file)
  • Think about the problem

At the end of 30 minutes, I promise that you will be surprised by how much more clearly you can see this problem.