Cave Time: Give Yourself the Gifts of Accountability and Focus

Feb 5, 2024

Something that comes up over and over again in our classes these days is the need for time to focus (and of course, there are tons of great books on there on the topic like this, this and this). (Sidenote: has anyone tried Flip Phone February?) The thing is, the EASY part is placing it on your calendar; the HARD part is actually doing the thing. Whether it is because the particular task is hard, unclear, self-initiated, scary, or just plain old unfun, it can be really hard to dive into those more focused tasks, or the annoying bureaucratic things that require persistence and time. This is a situation where it may help to have some accountability to buckle down. My bestie, otherwise known in these parts as Together Tech Exec, recently booked herself a Cave Day. The TL;DR on Cave Time is basically that you state your task to a group of humans, you do the task (on or off camera, but Melinda said most people kept cameras on), and then you REPORT BACK ON THE TASK.

I asked Melinda why she chose to go to the proverbial cave, and she had a few thoughts that resonated with me:

  • Some tasks need uninterrupted flow and focus. Melinda works in an open office setting, AND gets pinged all day via messages. If you are rewriting your team handbook, or designing a new training module, or working on your dissertation, you need to keep your head in the game. And let’s face it, sometimes we need accountability to make sure we have used the focus time well.
  • Some To-Do’s require boring bureaucracy. Maybe you need to consolidate two United Airlines mileage accounts, or submit a medical reimbursement, or figure out how to return something that arrived damaged from Target. You may pull one thread and then get transferred to another department, and if you don’t stay on hold for no matter how long it takes, the task won’t get done and you’ll have to start back over the next time you are ready to tackle it.
  • Some items feel really big – and progress toward the goal builds momentum. I could see using some Caves (even with just my own team) to complete smaller steps toward a larger project – that previously felt overwhelming when staring at my calendar. Initiating progress toward something, like say, outlining the newsletter, or planning our outreach calendar, can really help build momentum to get the task to completion.

Melinda said to me, “I definitely felt a sense of accountability – even to strangers! When I found myself getting distracted, I would look at everyone else online, plugging away, and it would refocus me. The time flew by and I got a lot done. What a great tool in the focus toolbox!”

While you may not have the budget to pay for a Cave, there are other ways to institute the practice of focusing on something for a period of time. We are big fans of the Pomodoro method around here, which I love because 25 minutes of ANYTHING feels manageable. As I think about Caves in my own work, I’m also thinking about not just the WHAT of the task, but also the WHEN (like, calling United Airlines is not a huge cognitive lift, that is afternoon energy!) and the WHERE (for example, if I need to do flow work, I need to be away from my teaching station and my phone needs to be tucked away).

What about you? How do YOU build in focus time? (I’m also keenly curious about this for people in open office settings, or teachers who don’t have offices and often get interrupted during their prep periods.)