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Johannes Holmberg

UI developer & designer

“If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. If I instead get interrupted a lot what replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time … there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons.” — Cal Newport, Deep Work

After having read Deep Work I knew that I wanted to reconfigure and optimize the way I structure my time. I wanted to get out of the reactive mode and instead be a bit more proactive in the way I approach my work.

I started by figuring out my own personal rhythm. I’m alert and focused during the mornings. My sense of awareness is high and I’m able to approach problem solving easily. This is the perfect time to produce my best work. But email was the way I always started my work day. Every morning I went through my incoming mail to see if there was anything new I had to deal with. The email inbox and chatting tools stood wide open leaving me subject to anyones whim. Bad. Very bad. This is reactivity at its worst, it throws me off balance and I lose this precious focus.

During the afternoons I’m generally more sluggish and don’t have the same type of willpower that I do during the morning. Doing email, reading newspapers and communication would make much more sense then.

So I have now set up a more rigid system for myself where I split my working day into two modes—producer mode and consumer mode.

Producer Mode

The morning session of my work day is when I’m wearing the producer hat, these are my maker hours. During this time I put my devices into “Do Not Disturb” and close down email and chatting tools. I’m closed off from the outside world. I also take great care to place my phone in another room from where I’m currently working, this is to resist any temptation to get distracted or dragged in. The morning session usually goes from something like 07:00–12:00.

Consumer Mode

After lunch (when I already have the main work done for the day) I switch in to consumer mode. Now I go through my inbox and do corresponding as needed, I open up the chat tools and actually invite myself to get disturbed. But at this point it’s okay, I already got the main bulk of important work done. Any extra value that I create at this point is just a bonus. I also do meetings, catch up with my RSS feed to get inspiration, and read newspapers if I feel for it.

At the end of the day I do my planning for the next day. After having gone through my mail in the afternoon I know the priorities for tomorrow and can schedule the producer session accordingly.

In the beginning it was hard to make this switch. The urge to check on any incoming email or the feeling that someone needed me was huge. But I’ve stuck to it and I’ve seen an increasing amount of valuable work I’ve been managing to produce thanks to this system.

Every time you stop doing a task you are working on to check your email, you incur what researchers call a “switching cost.” Particularly if you’re doing any kind of work that requires deep concentration (aka creative flow) such as writing, coding, or assembling a presentation, it typically takes at least 25 minutes to get properly back into the task after you’ve interrupted yourself. — Unsubscribe, Jocelyn K. Glei