Productivity and GTD

Intensity of Focus

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
Intensity of focus

Batching is a working method that has always been associated, rightfully, with high rates of personal productivity. It basically consists of grouping tasks of the same type — they require the same tools, the same preparation or the same mental state — and complete them one after the other, remaining undisturbed.

The reason why this way of working is very effective is quite evident. The preparation necessary to perform any of these tasks is only carried out once, for the first task. After this, the other similar tasks are bonded together without needing any extra setup.

For example, to fix code errors or bugs in an application, you need to boot a few specific tools, configure some of them properly and go into an analytical mental state that requires a lot of concentration to find the cause of the problem. The set-up of this system (both physical and mental) before you start working on a particular bug might consume about 15 minutes easily. If you have five different bugs to fix and you face them at different times, it will take at least one more hour to solve them all comparing to what it would take to deal with all of them within the same time block, without interruptions.

When the work to be done requires a deep intellectual effort, this way of working becomes essential if you want to produce more and better in less time.

Adam Grant, writer and professor in the Wharton Business School (Pennsylvania) talks about this productive formula:

High-Quality Work Produced = Time Spent x Intensity of Focus

The intensity of focus is an obvious productive parameter that we rarely try to improve. When you increase the intensity with which you work, the amount — and quality — of work produced per unit of time increases. So, according to this, improving your ability to concentrate will help you improve your productive capacity. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

Research shows that when you go from one task to another, the attention on the new task is not activated immediately. A residual part of your attention is still on the previous task. That habit so widespread nowadays of working semi-distractedly, going from one thing to another and then going back to the previous one, is completely insane form a productive point of view.

Instead of increasing the number of working hours, try to improve the intensity with which you work. Maximize the time you work in batches (concentrated in similar tasks) and the time you spend doing deep work (focused on a single job, without interruptions), and you’ll greatly increase your performance and personal productivity.

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