Yesterday, while soaring at 38,000 feet, I had an epiphany: I can write three blogs on a two-hour flight from Denver to Oakland with ease. But to write those same blogs seated at my desk in my office can take closer to six hours. Why?

It didn’t take much analysis to understand why I am more productive, creative, and focused on a plane than at my desk. It’s because I’m too cheap to pay for the airline wifi service. Meaning that, for a few precious hours, all of my devices stop buzzing, ringing, and beeping at me. On my non-stop flight, the non-stop flurry of offers, requests, and entertainment options quiet. Without distraction, my brain relaxes into doing just one thing or nothing at all. And it feels… luxurious.

This makes me wonder about how to create these conditions for myself back at my office. Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating that we return to a pre-internet world in which we don’t benefit from tools like Google, Slack, and email. But rather how we can carve out intentional space in our days and weeks during which we turn it all off.

The following concepts may be novel to you:

Your phone has an “off” button.

Wifi can be temporarily disabled.

Apps can be closed.

Earbuds can be worn without being plugged into anything.

In other words, we can make smarter choices. We can choose to calendar a half-day per week when we turn off all of our devices to accomplish something that requires total mental focus. We can agree with team members to put phones away and turn off email so we can be fully present during conversations. We can put our phones “away” when we get home, knowing that if someone needs us they will call and we will hear the ring. We can dig deep and exercise our will to not obsessively check our devices (even though they are designed to be addictive).

In Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, author and Professor Cal Newport shows how even quick distractions (e.g., a fast peak at email) causes “attention residue” or broken concentration. He recommends we set up “smart routines and rituals” to achieve two benefits: 1) Allow our brains to downshift and recharge; and 2) Create designated time and space to concentrate. In an age of digital distraction, and as creatures wired for novelty, we need the discipline of smart routine.

What is it that requires real mental focus from you and what smart routines might you create to shift from “busy and shallow” to “productive and deep?”

Photo Credit: Pixeby

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