Carlson’s Law is about the negative impact of involuntary breaks. Taking much-needed and deserved intentional breaks is one thing – getting involuntarily distracted is another. It is proven: interruption seriously wrecks productivity.
“The difference between the greats and the legends is their ability to focus for longer periods of time.” – Jordan Burroughs
Emails, SMS, online messaging, phone calls, discussions between colleagues, and other outside distractions prevent you from concentrating and doing your work as effectively as possible. Did you know that it takes us between 3 and 5 minutes to get back to work after each interruption? Over a week, this makes up a significant loss of time. Statistics and numbers on the topic actually vary. There is this study from the University of California Irvine that suggests it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus.
What is Carlson’s Law?
Carlson’s law, also called the “Law of homogeneous sequences,” states that interrupted work will be less effective and will take more time than if completed in a continuous manner.
While such a statement may look obvious, Carlson’s law reminds us that focusing one task at a time for an extended period yields better results than constantly switching back and forth between tasks. Because of the inevitable delays required to “get back to effective work” after each interruption, the entire task’s duration will be longer.
Carlson’s Law or “Law of homogeneous sequences – Illustration
Who is Sune Carlson?
Sune Carlson (1909-1999) was a Swedish economist and a pioneer in business research. His observation of the “Law of Homogenous Sequence” or the now called “Carlon’s Law” made him famous. Sune Carlson’s productivity concept of “one task at a time” became more popularized with different names: “Batching” and “Deep Work”.
“Batching” Tasks to Stay Efficient and Maximize Productivity
“Batching” is a task productivity concept and consists of doing all similar tasks in one batch. Checking and replying to your emails only two hours per day, one hour in the morning, one hour later on in the day would be an excellent example of batching tasks to improve productivity. Tim Ferris explains how Batching helped him to maximize drastically is productivity. “Batching” is probably the closest productivity idea from Carlson’s Law.
“Deep Work” to avoid thought interruptions and Increase Productivity
“Deep Work” is another productivity concept. “Deep work” is a task and mind productivity concept. It can be seen as an enhancement of the “Batching” idea. “Batching” is about doing related tasks in a given timeslot to avoid loss of focus that may arise from significant changes in the tasks’ requirements. “Deep Work” goes further and consists of entirely focusing on the current task – instead of thinking of other things at the same time you’re doing the main task. Like Carlson’s law, it emphasizes the fact that any interruption – whether it’s a task interruption per se or an interruption of thoughts – is terrible for productivity.
“Deep Work” is the strict application of Carlson’s Law for maximized execution, but it can be challenging. Like many things in life, it’s all about training. The key is to try again until your brain can focus for long hours in the distracted world. As usual, a good workplace can help a lot. A neat environment, a focus background music, and some caffeine are likely to assist you in the process 🙂
Conclusion and Suggestions
Reducing interruptions allows value creation to happen. Interruptions – due to regular switches between activities or caused by merely a thought that is going back and forth on the main topic – are detrimental to productivity.
The key takeaway of Carlson’s law is to avoid multitasking, start a task, finish it before passing on the next one, and isolate yourself to limit distraction. At the end of the day, it’s all about having a decluttered mindset. To help you optimize your tasks and maximize your well-being, a Pareto Rule approach can be highly effective.