Where distractions are weeded out, focus can take root.
Ever since my kids went back to school in September, I have become obsessed with maximizing productivity. I want to learn how to use my time more efficiently and to juggle multiple projects while creating high-quality products. At the same time, I want to read more books, go the gym, cook great dinners, hang out with my family, spend time outside, wake up and go to bed early.
I have realized that none of this happens on its own; it's the result of careful time management strategies. But it takes a whole lot of discipline, and that's what I've been training myself to do. Reading Cal Newport's books, Digital Minimalism and, more recently, Deep Work, were part of my effort to become more focused and to minimize distractions. Now I've learned about another method used by author Neil Pasricha, creator of the 3 Books podcast that I enjoy.Pasricha's strategy for getting stuff done is to schedule one Untouchable Day per week. This means that nothing else can happen on that day. The day is preserved, empty, to allow him to focus on whatever project he wants, and nothing can intrude. He describes the experience in an article for Medium:
"On the actual Untouchable Day itself, I picture myself sitting in a bulletproof car surrounded by two-inches of thick impenetrable plastic on all sides. Nothing gets in. Nothing gets out. Meetings bounce off the windshield. Texts, alerts, and phone calls, too. My cell phone is in Airplane Mode all day. My laptop has Wi-Fi completely disabled. Not a single thing can bother me... and not a single thing does."
What about emergencies? Come on, people, those almost never happen. If anything, it's the constant disruption of our focus by looking at phones under the pretence of potential emergencies that is the biggest emergency of all. As long as your partner or boss or kid knows where you are physically, someone will track you down if they really need to.
If the thought of finding an empty day each week seems impossible, Pasricha avoids this by scheduling his Untouchable Days four months in advance. Seem a bit extreme? Not everyone has to look that far in advance, but for him,
"That’s after my speaking schedule is locked in — but, importantly, before anything else is. That’s a magic moment in my schedule. It’s the perfect time to plant the Untouchable Day flag before anything else can claim that spot."
This is a different approach from the one Newport suggests in Deep Work, which is to incorporate focused work sessions into one's daily schedule. But perhaps Pasricha's approach can work, too, because it's a big enough chunk of time (say, 6-8 hours) that it allows one to make serious headway on a project. Even if it's only once weekly, it's still happening on a regular, reliable basis.
You can take mini breaks, too. Pasricha says he goes to the gym, grabs snacks, and takes walks during those Untouchable Days. This sparks creativity, gives his brain a reprieve, and re-energizes him for the next several hours.
As much as I love the idea of Untouchable Days, I would have trouble implementing them into my schedule, as I have to show up at work five days a week and my weekends are spent with my kids. But for anyone who is self-employed or a freelancer, this is a wonderful idea. Give Pasricha's entire article a read here for more inspiration.