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Resourceful Designer podcast: Offering tips, tricks and advice for starting and growing your graphic or web design business.

Uninterrupted time can help you become more productive.

If you want a more productive design business, arrange your schedule to have periods of uninterrupted time. Time that is free of notifications and distractions, allowing you to focus all your energy on the task at hand.

If you’re anything like me, you have a million things on your mind, and a good number of them are on your to-do list. But no matter how efficient you think you are, there are only so many hours in a day, and never enough time to get things done.

But what if I told you there is a way to get more hours out of your day?

Ok, not really. Nobody has come up with a way to slow down or stop time yet. Or at least not that I know of. But there is a way for you to FEEL like you have more time and for you to be more productive. The trick is uninterrupted time. That means no distractions, a span where you focus 100% of your mental and creative energy on the task at hand.

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like you accomplished so much? Chances are, you felt that way because you were less distracted that day. One hour of uninterrupted time is equal to three hours of a regular workday, so it’s no wonder you felt like you accomplished so much.

How can one hour of uninterrupted time equal three hours of regular time? Let me explain.

The University of Illinois and Microsoft did a joint study on the impact of disruptions on the workforce and recovery time after those disruptions. They tested a pool of workers, monitoring their work habits and how they were affected by typical, everyday distractions such as email notifications, text messages, social media DMs and phone calls.

They deduced that the average worker takes nine munites to return to a task after an interruption. NINE MINUTES.

They’re not saying that it takes nine minutes to reply to an email or a DM. But that most people, when distracted, will take a bit of extra time before getting back to the task they were distracted from. Replying to a Facebook Message may only take a few seconds. But while distracted from their primary task, they might as well check to see if anyone liked or commented on their most recent post. Or after replying to a text message, they may as well see if any new emails came arrived. Or they may decide to take the time to refill their coffee before getting back on track.

So, on average, simple distractions like a social media DM can take you away from your primary task for up to nine minutes. And that’s just time away from the task. There was a study a while back that said it takes roughly 10-20 minutes of working on something to become entirely focused on the job.

You may be thinking, “I don’t take nine minutes to get back to a task after a distraction.” The test subjects in the Microsoft and University of Illinois study thought the same thing. However, when interviewed after the study, almost every one of them was surprised by how long their distractions lasted.

Most of them thought they were away from their primary task for only a minute or two, when in fact, they were away from it for three to five times longer than they thought.

Even if you ignore your notifications, leaving them for later, they’re still a distraction. If you don’t click, the distraction still breaks your focus and interrupts your work. Which means it will take longer to complete that task.

A study on people’s work habits conducted by RescueTime said the average person couldn’t go six minutes without checking some sort of communication platform.

Once you add in other forms of distractions and 40% of people, never get more than 30 minutes of uninterrupted work time per day.

How does this apply to your design business?

We live in a world of communication overload. I’m sure that like me, you’re bombarded with messages and notifications every day. But what you need to remember is that You Are In Control. You have the power to turn your distracting notifications off.

You’ve probably heard about successful business people getting up at five or six in the morning to get an early start on their day. They often say it’s the most productive time for them. The reason is there are no distractions during that time since most people are still asleep.

If you’re a morning person, you may want to try starting work early. Work from 6 am to 9 am and then take a break for a couple of hours to take care of all the emails, text messages and check in on your social accounts.

Or perhaps you’re a night owl. Try finding some uninterrupted time by working late at night after your family is in bed.

But even if early mornings or late at night are not your thing and you work traditional business hours from 9 to 5, there’s still hope. You’re in control. You can choose to eliminate distractions from your workspace.

  • Quit your email program.
  • Turn off notifications.
  • Set your computer to Do Not Disturb.
  • Put your phone in airplane mode.

If you eliminate all distractions and work for a few hours uninterrupted, you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done. Your concentration will improve. You’ll be more focused on the task at hand. Your creativity will increase. And problem-solving will be easier. Without distractions, you’ll feel like a better designer.

Aim for three hours of uninterrupted time.

Another study said the optimal amount of uninterrupted time is three hours. Three hours is enough for you to get involved with the task you’ve started and then slowly build your focus and creativity until you’re in a zone where the outside world almost disappears. All your concentration is on your task.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this “Focused Zone” before. Being so focused on what you’re doing that, you lose track of time and forget things like lunch.

The study claimed that focused times lasting longer than three hours might lead to fatigue, causing you to lose focus. The more engaged your brain is, the more calories you burn. And just like a physical workout, the longer you concentrate on a single task, the more drained you’ll feel afterwards.

So uninterrupted time is excellent for productivity, but too much of it and you may feel drained for the rest of the day, which becomes counterproductive to the whole process of trying to get more work done.

Another study took place with young children at a Montessori school. They observed that when left alone with a task of their choosing, the children would focus for the first hour to an hour and a half.

A 15-20 minute period would follow where the children would seem a bit restless as if they were losing focus on their work. The researchers thought the kids were becoming disorderly, losing interest in what they were doing. But it turned out to be what they dubbed “False Fatigue.” After this short period of restlessness, the kids became even more focused for another hour as they continued to work on their projects.

The kids were so focused that a lot of them became oblivious to their surroundings and ignored distractions introduced by the researchers.

After roughly three hours, the kids lost interest and stopped. But they looked delighted with their accomplishments.

The same principles apply to adults, including designers like you.

Times may vary for you, but three hours of uninterrupted time to set as your goal.

Finding uninterrupted time with kids in the house.

Perhaps three hours of uninterrupted time while your children busy themselves unsupervised is unrealistic. But what about one hour? Is that not feasible?

Mommy Blog Practical, By Default, shares a hack for getting uninterrupted work time without feeling “Mom Guilt” (the same solution works for dads as well.)

The hack involves using a timer to teach young kids that while the timer is counting down, it’s not ok to interrupt Mom or Dad. Even young kids can learn to watch a timer.

When the timer rings, you give your kids your undivided attention. It doesn’t matter what you’re in the middle of doing. There’s no “just a couple of more minutes.” You need to follow your end of the deal if you expect your kids to leave you alone during your uninterrupted time.

Be sure to read the blog for full details.

It’s up to you.

If you want to feel and be more productive, the easiest thing to do is turn off the communication overload. Limit distractions and get some uninterrupted time to focus 100% on your work. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in such a short period of time.

Do you add uninterrupted time to your schedule?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week TinEye.com

TinEye is an image search and recognition company. They are experts in computer vision, pattern recognition, neural networks and machine learning. Their mission is to make your images searchable.

TinEye delivers image search and recognition solutions to the industries where searching images is mission-critical. TinEye's image recognition is used by millions of people and powers billions of searches across a wide range of industries.

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