This article was based on episode 91 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get the a 10-day free trial of CaveDay when you become of a member of The Modern Manager community at mamieks.com/join.
It is difficult to Imagine what life would be like without your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Our personal and professional worlds have become dominated by these devices that keep us informed, accessible, efficient, entertained and comfortable. But there are numerous downsides, one of which is our weakened ability to concentrate. Between buzzes, dings and the internal unconscious desire for a hit of dopamine, we are more distracted, distant and drained than ever before.
Jake Kahana believes that we can live a healthier life and do our best work by creating structures and environments that combat digital distraction. He is a cofounder of Caveday, a company established to maximize productivity for individuals and corporations through facilitated focus sessions and deep work training. As a founding US faculty member with The School of Life, Jake teaches workshops in emotional intelligence for corporate teams. He speaks at conferences and companies around the world on creating a relationship to our work that is healthy so that our other relationships can thrive.
WE ARE LIVING IN THE AGE OF DISTRACTION
Our phones and all their apps are often intended to make our lives more efficient, yet those same devices have become the prime offenders, keeping us from being efficient ourselves.
Studies have reported that we touch our phones thousands of times a day. We compulsively check or unlock our phones on average about 80 times a day. Having your phone on your desk, even if it's upside down or on airplane mode, temporarily reduces your cognitive capability.
With all these dings, notifications and vibrations constantly competing for our attention, it’s no wonder we gravitate to “shallow work.” Jake describes shallow work as the small tasks such as responding to emails, keeping Slack notifications under control, and checking off easy tasks from a to-do list. While these tasks keep us busy and create an immediate sense of satisfaction, they do not lead to feelings of accomplishment at the end of the day, week or month.
IMAGINE THAT YOUR BRAIN HAS A DOOR
Your home is your personal space. The front door protects these private areas from random intruders. When you gather for a family meal, relax on the weekends or sleep at night, you do so confidently knowing that you decide whom you allow to come into your home and when.
Now imagine there is a door that guards the entrance to your mental space. When you suddenly find yourself responding to Slack messages or involved in email conversations instead of engaging in a priority activity, we have allowed intruders to walk right into our mental home. You have either established an open door policy or are living in an unprotected hut without any door at all.
To preserve our mental home we need to create a door, or boundaries, between time for focused attention and deep work, and shallow, but necessary work, including the phone calls, email and Slack messages that are constantly bidding for our attention. When we do this, the quality of our work improves and we are better learners. Despite what it may feel like, we do not always need to be alert and available for every intrusion or distraction.
WORKING INSIDE THE CAVE
“Going into the cave” is a playful metaphor for creating distraction free spaces that enable deep work. To introduce the idea of a cave to your team, share this article or the related podcast episode. Talk about why deep work and focus time are important for you and for them.
To create your own cave, Jake suggests the following:
Put your phone out of reach and out of sight.
Close email, snooze Slack and close any tabs that are unnecessary for accomplishing the work at hand.
Treat your own work with the same respect that you have for collective work done while attending meetings; eliminate interruptions from technology.
Guide your work by first answering the following three questions:
What are you working on?
What are you avoiding?
What does the finished work look like?
These questions help define the work by task and assignment instead of
equating work with being in front of the computer.
Creating a cave is powerful as individuals and as a team. To introduce the concept of a cave or a cave day, Jake suggest the following for co-located teams:
Create a space, such as a conference room, for sharing a time to focus.
Plan to schedule an hour for working in the cave, as our brains can concentrate optimally on one subject for between 25-52 minutes at a time.
Start with check-in during which each team member shares what they will be working on and/or what they choose not to do (such as checking email) while in the cave.
Review the rules, including:
We are not going to talk.
We will focus on the most important task that we have for the day.
We will monotask as opposed to multitasking.
Ask the team to try to work without headphones. Provide white noise, brown noise, or repetitive music designed for focus (found on Spotify or Brain.fm). White noise engages and quiets that part of the brain that seeks distraction.
Upon the conclusion of time in the cave, reflect on the following questions with a round-robin check-out:
How did that feel?
What was different?
How should we protect cave time in the future?
End by high-fiving each other and celebrating the wins.
If you’re a geographically dispersed team, you can still take advantage of the cave day concept with the following adjustments.
Arrange for the group to work together for an hour while on a video conference..
Make sure that everyone is present and video remains on for each person for the duration of the cave.
Cave dwellers learn to monotask effectively. As we train ourselves to build up our focus endurance, we are able to get more done in less time. Just as important, though, as Jake beautifully notes, our relationship with work reflects our relationship with ourselves, our partners and our social lives. When our relationship with work is healthy, then our other relationships can thrive, which will in turn fuel even more productive work.
KEEP UP WITH JAKE
Get a free 10-day trial to Cave Day when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at mamieks.com/join.
This article was based on episode 91 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.