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It's often recommended to 'unplug' - that is to switch off your emails and mobiles ect for a particular amount of time.

While the benifits of doing this socially are obvious, the benifits of doing this during your working time are less clear. I'm interested to find sources that give some discussion of the advantages of time isolated from normal channels/distractions. Can people recommend either sources or examples that have been found to work.

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Completely anecdotal, but the Verge sponsored someone to spend a year unplugged from the internet. He's back and wrote an essay on the experience. –  Adam Wuerl May 2 '13 at 23:37
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4 Answers

So one of the things that prompted this question was that I recently did a pleasant 48-hours without electronic communication - no phone, no email, no social media, no nothing.

The big difference to me, was not the interruptions (I'm not actually sure that email counts as an interruption as you go to it to check, it doesn't just turn up like a co-worker in your office), but the type of engagement you have.

If you are looking at your todo list and email and your right-at-this-moment projects, then you are naturally thinking at quite a tactical level - what is happening this week, this month, this afternoon, but if you move away from this, then you naturally start to think much more long term, about the next few years and ongoing directions for projects, companies and a legacy.

It was a genuine surprise to me - I like to think that quite a lot of my workflow is based on strategic thought, but actually I was thinking strategic thoughts (which were helpful and admittedly quite long term) but I was actually thinking about strategy from a very tactical mindset - unpluging from all the day to day emails and immediate tasks made a big difference.

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Generally, if you are constantly being interrupted by emails or phone calls you will not perform at your best.

Any tasks that require concentration, or 'getting into a flow' to develop a solution will be severely impacted by interruptions, so if you use a time and task management system such as Pomodoro, you will learn to ignore or switch off emails/phones etc until your break time.

Even if you use a less formal system, remember that email is an asynchronous communications medium so can wait longer than telephone, generally.

I typically turn off notifications on my email and only check it every hour, and during an intensive task I will silence my phone and just check for messages on completion of that task.

As an aside, if you always try and answer emails immediately you train others to expect immediate turnaround in comms. This will not be good for your peace of mind going forwards.

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I feel it is the opposite. Distractions at work are huge time wasters. I guess it depends on the social situation and the people, but a phone call is not that big of a deal most of the time. You can't just measure time lost by the length of the interuption itself (See here).

One of my favorite techniques is to plan to work on complex problems during a block of time I can control: email notifications off and phone set to DND. Another is to set intervals to check voice and email messages. Most people overly hype the consequences of not answering messages immediately.

Constantly checking messages is a compulsion to get rid of ASAP or better yet, don't develop it at all.

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I am not sure what you are asking. You should read The Shallows. The internet and many forms of media are changing our brain. They are making us less deep thinkers. Personally, when I just allow myself to check email twice a day and not go to any other sites, until some time later. I am much more productive. Also, I think the Pomodoro technique is a crutch that should be used sparingly. The Pomodoro technique teaches a person to rely on extrinsic motivation rather than intrinsic motivation.

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