Be A Blockhead

It’s amazing when you first become self-employed. There’s lots of time. The days are long. This is not because you have nothing to do. It is because you have no trivia to do. The trivia has not had a chance to build up. All the emails, voicemails, post-it notes and things on lists.

I got a sneak peek into this some years ago. I had been out of the office for a month. Yes, a month. I had something to do. I did not look at email. I made no phone calls. No one was to contact me unless there was an off-the-scale emergency that ONLY I could deal with (difficult to imagine what that might be).

No one called.

Having done what I had to do, I was travelling home by boat. I was looking out of the porthole in my cabin as the vessel pulled out of the dock and I realised my mind was blank. Not blank = stupid. But blank = blank sheet of paper. There was no noise. No lists. No squawking. No “can you just…?” No “have you got a minute?” The trivia had melted away. I had been working for 15-odd years and I had never experienced this before.

I was in a block of pure, clear time. I had no worries or concerns of any kind. No pressures. I was amazed at how slowly time moved when there is no noise.

There are two massive benefits to being in a block of uninterrupted time.

The first benefit is obvious. A big block of time allows us to focus all our energy on the significant issues that face us. And how well we deal with these significant issues will pretty much define what we get out of life. Think of this as the chance to score a goal.

The second benefit is maybe not so obvious. The distracted mind is much less able than the clear mind to convert chances into goals. And the piles of trivia that build up, even if we push them to the side during the blocks of time we schedule for the important stuff, steal some of our brain’s bandwidth, because you cannot truly put them out of your mind.

You know what it’s like when your PC slows down because you’ve got too many applications open. The majority of the applications are not actually being worked on but their very existence requires you to commit some resources to them and as a consequence there is much less capacity for the important stuff. And when a chance arises, you kick the ball over the bar. Because you were thinking about something else.

So what we need to do to score more goals is to:

a) create lots of chances and

b) turn them into goals more often.

We can create more chances by scheduling as much of our time in big blocks (at least 3 hours) as possible to work on the big stuff.

Second, we can convert more of our chances into goals by minimising distraction. The best way to do this is to throw all this rubbish into a bucket, or write it all down on a piece of paper and only give it attention once a day, for as short a time as possible. I’d say 1 hour per day.  In this time, deal with all your email, all your phone calls, all your post – everything. In an hour. You may need more, depending on the nature of your job, but don’t give this task more time than it truly merits. Give it what it merits, not what it wants.

And accept that after the hour or so is up, there may be some of it left undone. That’s OK.

There is no point in being ready to score if you never get a chance – so schedule the blocks of time to create the chances. There is no point in creating loads of chances if your neck-top PC is so pre-occupied with trivia that you cannot score.

I may never again attain the fabulous blankness I had on that shiny day in that boat, but there are lots I can do to get pretty close, and stick that ball in the back of the net.

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4 Responses to Be A Blockhead

  1. Eilidh Milnes June 13, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    I enjoyed reading this very much Mark, thank you. We have developed our mastermind to work in big time chunks. It really maximises time, effort and energy.

  2. Dave Verburg June 13, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    The legend of action management strikes again! A great piece and a great reminder for me especially as i’m now a home worker.
    Thanks Mark


  3. Matt Chandler June 13, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Once again Mark you’ve hit another nail on another head. Always great reading on a Monday morning. And you always manage to make me feel so guilty as I sit here pretending that all my emails are actually adding value…!

    • Mark Nugent June 20, 2011 at 9:35 am #

      Thanks for the comments Matt and sorry for the delayed posting of your comment – slightly aggressive spam filter.

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