“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.”
~ Cal Newport
More often than not when I travel on a plane I take my laptop in order to get some work done. I have often been amazed about what I can achieve during a flight. I seem to possess super human powers during a plane journey and get more work done than in any other situation.
I recently read a story where Tony Amoyal describes how he wrote his book ‘Zombie Loyalists’ on a round trip flight from Newark to Tokyo and back. He didn’t even go into Tokyo. He flew into the airport, went into the lounge for a shower and some food, then two hours later, flew back to Newark. This provided him the environment he needed to be able to focus and get the book written.
I’m not suggesting that you buy a plane ticket in order to focus and achieve some great work, but that you replicate a similar environment to set you up for success.
I have been experimenting with what makes me able to focus longer and harder, which helps me achieve my best, most productive, in depth work:
1. Limit your distractions
The key to productivity and focus is setting up your environment where you limit your distractions. On a plane (until recently) there is no wifi. This means that you can’t get distracted by the internet. If you are travelling on a new plane where they now offer wifi, you can choose to not connect. You can switch off your phone and keep it off for the duration. This way there is no social media or emails available to draw you in.
2. Implement a time limit
When you are on a flight there is a set start and end time, so you know exactly how long you have to work. This provides you focus. If you have a certain amount of things to complete in a set period of time, you will often find you are able to achieve this. There is a well known philosophy called Parkinson’s Law that describes that tasks will always expand to take you the length of time you have to complete them in. If you have 3 hours to work on something it will take you 3 hours, if you only have 2 hours, you will probably be able to get it done in 2. A similar technique you can use to implement a time pressure is the Pomodoro technique. This is where you schedule timeslots of 25 minutes to complete a task and then take a short break before scheduling the next 25 minutes.
3. Prepare a plan
Before I board a flight, I detail out the specific items I want to complete. If you are very clear on exactly what you need to do in that time you have it enables you to get right down to it, without wasting any time considering what tasks to start. As soon as you have completed one task, the trick is to look at your list and immediately start the next task on it. The quicker you can switch from one task to the next, the more productive you will be.
4. Change in environment
Sometimes just being in a different environment can help you focus. If you have been working in the office for a long period of time, just changing the environment to a new one can help you be more productive. Something you have been trying to finish for a few hours in the office, can often be completed in an hour of deep focus somewhere else, for a change of scene.
5. Be around people, but not with people
On a flight there are many other people around, but usually not people you know, who are constantly trying to interact with you. I suffer horribly from FOMO (fear of missing out) and I find that when I am in a public place, I feel comfort that I am out amongst other people, but not being interrupted by them. As long as you are able to filter background noise out, you might be able to work better amongst people rather than in a quiet room away from civilization.
Next time you produce your best work and go into your deepest focus, take a minute to note what environment you were working in and whether it is possible to replicate this for the future when you are trying to focus. I’d love to hear what works for you.