Getting things done in the age of distraction

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I thought this article in the Economist on the “collaboration curse” was interesting. At Hotfoot we have an open plan office, and by the nature of our work we collaborate frequently, but we do so carefully to avoid disruption. We usually leave the main office for group meetings (we’re lucky to have a great coffee place with lots of space on the ground floor). We use Basecamp rather than email or messaging for the very reason that it doesn’t require an instant response and isn’t ordered by most recent first (as opposed to by priority).

But all that said, it can still be hard to focus with incoming emails, calls, texts, alerts, invites, reminders, Tweets and so on. And we do still huddle around screens to chat things through, and that’s sometimes distracting for others. There’s a reason why our Tech Director Aidan – and so many others around the world – have invested in noise cancelling headphones for tackling in-depth work.

From the Economist:

The biggest problem with collaboration is that it makes what Mr Newport calls “deep work” difficult, if not impossible. Deep work is the killer app of the knowledge economy: it is only by concentrating intensely that you can master a difficult discipline or solve a demanding problem. Many of the most productive knowledge workers go out of their way to avoid meetings and unplug electronic distractions. Peter Drucker, a management thinker, argued that you can do real work or go to meetings but you cannot do both. Jonathan Franzen, an author, unplugs from the internet when he is writing. Donald Knuth, a computer scientist, refuses to use e-mail on the ground that his job is to be “on the bottom of things” rather than “on top of things”. Richard Feynman, a legendary physicist, extolled the virtues of “active irresponsibility” when it came to taking part in academic meetings.

Read the full article.

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