Tagged: time management


Check your email (and other notifications) at set times (or days) and rarely. Limit yourself with a browser plug-in, or set up a commitment contract to break the habit. Try the email game. Train others to not expect an immediate response, or to knock, text, or call for anything urgent. Above all, work with your email closed, disable alerts, and remove any ensnaring icons or links from your desktop or phone.

Email is somebody else’s agenda for your time. Haphazard fielding is unproductive and unhealthy. The email at the top of your inbox is probably not the most important, and email itself is almost certainly not the best thing you could be doing. Meanwhile, alerts tickle your curiosity and exploit our evolutionary weakness for novelty, distracting you from the work at hand. The ensuing indulgence disrupts your focus, causing you to lose up to 20 minutes as your brain reboots [Gallagher, p. 154], and the dopamine hit from new information reinforces your compulsion. Worse still, throughout this, your breathing probably grows shallower and your brain gets less oxygen… [Stone, Johnson]

If in doubt, consider the behavior of some of the internet’s more sophisticated users.



Mark Changizi. 2011-08-20. Masters of Distraction. WSJ

Winifred Gallagher. 2009. Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. Penguin

Seth Godin. 2012-01-12. The first thing you do when you sit down at your computer

Adrianne Jeffries. 2011-11-30. French Tech Company Declares ‘Zero Email’ Policy. BetaBeat

Linda Stone. 2009-11-30. Diagnosis: Email Apnea

Clay Johnson. 2012. The Information Diet. O’Reilly



Work on one thing at a time. Eliminate distractions. Avoid interruptions.

Multi-tasking is a myth. You cannot do it.  When you attempt to “multi-task”, you are in fact switching rapidly between tasks. Switch-tasking requires interrupting what you’re currently working on to work on something else [Nass]. Interrupted, your brain takes twenty minutes to reboot [Gallagher, p. 154]. This makes you not only inefficient but confused. Worse, heavy multi-taskers actually get worse at juggling tasks and suffer from memory loss and diminished concentration [Nass].

(Note: It is okay to “walk and chew gum at the same time”, for these activities require different parts of the brain. You get the idea.)


References and further information:

Winifred Gallagher. 2009. Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. Penguin

Herman Miller. 2007. The Siren Song of Multitasking

Clifford Nass. Multi-Tasking is Bad for Your Brain. GigaOm

Joshua S. Rubinstein, David E. Meyer, and Jeffrey E. Evans. 2001. Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching. JEP

Sue Shellenbarger. 2003-02-27. New Studies Show Pitfalls Of Doing Too Much at Once. WSJ



Deciding exactly when and where something will be done (ie, putting it on your calendar) dramatically increases follow-through.

Researchers studying implementation intentions discovered that:

Women who had set themselves the goal of performing a breast self-examination (BSE) during the next month…greatly benefited from forming implementation intentions. Participants in this study were first asked to indicate how strongly they intended to perform a BSE during the next month, and some of the participants were requested to write down where and when they would want to perform the BSE during the next month. Of the participants who had reported strong goal intentions to perform a BSE during the next month, 100% did so if they had been induced to form additional implementation intentions. If no additional implementation intentions were formed, however, the strong goal intention alone produced only 53% goal completion. [Gollwitzer]

In another study, researchers asked drug addicts under withdrawal to compose a CV:

One group was asked in the morning to form the goal intention to write a short curriculum vitae before 5 p.m. and to add implementation intentions that specified when and where they would write it. Another group was requested to form the same goal intention but with irrelevant implementation intentions (i.e., they were asked to specify when they would eat lunch and where they would sit). At 5 p.m. none of the participants in the goal-intention-plus-irrelevant-implementation-intention condition had completed the task. However, 80% of the participants in the goal-intention-plus-relevant-implementation-intention condition handed in their curriculum vitae. [Gollwitzer]


Further reading:

Gollwitzer, Peter M. 1999. Implementation Intentions: Strong Effects of Simple Plans. American Psychologist