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Staying close to your current task
Interruptions are everywhere. When we want to get things done, it takes periods of concentration to perform our best work and bring it together. It takes minutes to get into the flow of our thoughts and stay focused. When we are in the flow, the next words, actions or thoughts follow with little effort. We can continue like this till we need to change task. Or till the next distraction.
There are times when we need to perform a related task in our flow. It might be we need to reference a file or a conversation. Or we need to fact-check something while we are replying to a message. This is when we change to a different app. Our flow breaks.
How far do you move away from the current task? What distracts you while you are way from that task? Let me introduce you to the concept of task proximity. The distance you travel from your current task impacts your flow of work. The further you move from the task, the more likely you are to be distracted. You will also find it more difficult to get back into the flow of your original task.
What do I mean by “that distance from your task?” Distance has a number of factors. Is my original task still in view? Can I see it? Is it in a different app? Is it on a different screen? Is it hidden under windows?
A task you can still see is easier to return to.
Does the related task require decisions or reasoning? Do you need to string facts together? This takes your focus deeper into the related task and creates more distance between the original task and the related task.
Does the related task need you to interact with people? Do you need to chat, call or meet with someone to get information? When there are people involved, the possibilities for distractions grown exponentially.
“Hi. How was your weekend?” You talk for 5min and then go back to the reason for your call. You get the information you need and additional things to investigate. You talk a little more with the person as they change the subject.
Oh, right. What were we talking about? Oh that’s right. The distance from your task. The further you are from your task, the more difficult it is to return to your focus.
Staying in the flow of work means staying close to your current task. Some apps provide features to let you complete a related task from with the app you are using. You don’t go far from the current task.
Great features integrate so well that it feels like you are still in the same app, even though you are using a different app or platform. We take some of these features for granted. They can appear too simple. Some of us prefer to use the separate, fuller featured app to complete the related task. But that increases the distance from our current task, and the chances of distraction.
Let me encourage you to use integrated features more. Stay in the app you are using for your current task. Only switch apps if you really need the extra features for the related task. Reduce distractions. Keep your thoughts on your current task and stay in the flow. Do what you need to do and get back to your current task.
Here’s an example you probably use every day and don’t think about it. Attaching a file to a message. You could open OneDrive, Teams, or SharePoint and navigate to the file. Or use search for the file and share from there. But try using the attachment button. In some apps this feature is designed so well that you can find your file quickly. It is either a recent file, or the feature lets you navigate or search from the app you are currently using.
Some apps now support mentioning or inserting a reference to a file, in line with the text you are typing. Type an @ or / and your recent files are suggested. If the suggestions don’t fit, type the first few letters of the file and see if the new suggestions include the file you are looking for.
This feature is the peak of staying in the flow of work. You don’t switch away from the app you are using. You aren’t distracted. It is simple, yet powerful.
Learn to use features like these, that help you stay in the flow of work.
Your focus will make you more productive and reduce stress. You will stay in your flow for longer periods of time and you will produce some of your best work.
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