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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

Focus, Batching and Flow


FOCUS.

“Effective executives do not splinter themselves. They concentrate on one task if at all possible.” – Peter Drucker from What Makes an Effective Executive

To be effective at fundraising — to generate RESULTS — you do not need a lot of TIME, but you need the ability to FOCUS your time.

Again calling upon Drucker’s wisdom, he observes that effective executives “consolidate their ‘discretionary’ time into the largest possible continuing units.” They BLOCK their time around a task.

Here are two scenarios:

Scenario A: Executive devotes 20% of her week to fundraising activities. Scenario B: Executive sets aside two 4-hour blocks in her schedule to focus on fundraising activities.

Scenario B will be more effective every time.

I have books, stacks of research papers, and years of observation to support this; one interesting nugget that summarizes it all is from Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work:

“The problem… is that when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task.” This creates Attention Residue.

AND it turns out task-switching requires enormous energy! We have to redirect millions of circuits in our brain — in effect — loading a new activity into our conscious mind. That takes real mental energy, and we can only do this so many times in a day until we are faced with task-switching fatigue.

BATCHING

We should also think about how we block time to focus. It’s not reasonable to carve out large chunks of time for each task. However, we can carve out time for similar types of mental activities, which is called ‘batching.’ Here’s a great story about Wharton professor and author Adam Grant (also from Deep Work).

Though Grant’s productivity depends on many factors, there’s one idea in particular that seems central to his method: the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches. Grant performs this batching at multiple levels. Within the year, he stacks his teaching into the fall semester, during which he can turn all of his attention to teaching well and being available to his students. (This method seems to work, as Grant is currently the highest-rated teacher at Wharton and the winner of multiple teaching awards.) By batching his teaching in the fall, Grant can then turn his attention fully to research in the spring and summer, and tackle this work with less distraction.

Grant also batches his attention on a small time scale. Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods where his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods where he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task. (He typically divides the writing of a scholarly paper into three discrete tasks: analyzing the data, writing a full draft, and editing the draft into something publishable.) During these periods, which can last up to three or four days, he’ll often put an out-of-office auto-responder on his e-mail so correspondents will know not to expect a response. “It sometimes confuses my colleagues,” he told me. “They say, ‘You’re not out of office, I see you in your office right now!’” But to Grant, it’s important to enforce strict isolation until he completes the task at hand.

My guess is that Adam Grant doesn’t work substantially more hours than the average professor at an elite research institution (generally speaking, this is a group prone to workaholism), but he still manages to produce more than just about anyone else in his field. I argue that his approach to batching helps explain this distinction. In particular, by consolidating his work into intense and uninterrupted pulses, he’s leveraging the following law of productivity: High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus). If you believe this formula, then Grant’s habits make sense: By maximizing his intensity when he works, he maximizes the results he produces per unit of time spent working.

For you, batching might look like this:

  • Monday / Tuesday: Focus on visits.
  • Wednesday: Focus on follow-up and next week’s predisposition.
  • Thursday/Friday: Batch together (if possible) administrative duties.

I generally try to batch in half-day increments with some time in between to respond to emails. Effectively, this creates three ‘batches’ per day. Today’s batch looks like this:

  • 7:00 – 10:00 Work on writing about sales culture (for website, book, clients)
  • 10:00 – 1:00 Focused time for RESPONDING to incoming requests and administrative requirements (including meetings)
  • 2:00 – 5:00 Scheduled time to follow-up with prospects.

Or, if you’re both a manager and someone in charge of fundraising you might consider the Maker’s Schedule / Manager’s Schedule.

FLOW (BONUS)

Many readers are familiar with mental state called ‘FLOW.’ It was termed by University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1990. Most people think ‘FLOW’ is about productivity, but that’s actually not the point. FLOW is first and foremost about personal fulfillment and satisfaction. We are MOST fulfilled when we’re immersed (read: FOCUSED) in something that is deeply challenging. This ‘state’ is what is termed flow state.