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It's not a Maginot Line. It's happiness.

As a strategy, building walls is frowned upon. The Great Wall of China. Hadrian's Wall. The Maginot Line. AOL's "walled garden." Defensive moves -- all failed. But maybe in certain circumstances walls can be beneficial?

A New York Times article describes how researchers used an iPhone app to contact some 2,200 individuals and get a total of roughly 250,000 replies as to how each person was feeling and what they were doing at the time they were contacted. Forty-seven percent of them reported that their minds were wandering when contacted -- in other words, half of them were not focused on whatever it was they were doing. Most interestingly, there was no correlation between the joy of the activity and the pleasantness of their thoughts.

Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.

This finding jibes perfectly with the focused attention inherent in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of "flow," in which a person so completely immersed in a task that feelings of time, effort, and energy disappear.

The problem today, of course, is that the state of flow is increasingly difficult to achieve. Psychologist Edward Hallowell says that

30% to 40% of people's time in the workplace is spent tending to unplanned interruptions, and then reconstituting the mental focus the interruption caused. I'm sure that was not the case 20 years ago simply because the tools of interruption were not so plentiful. And all the distraction has created blocks in thinking and feeling deeply. We're being superficialized and sound-bit.

In fact, when he asks people where they do their best thinking, the most common response is, "In the shower." Apparently, the shower is one of the last places left where we're not often interrupted.

That's where the Maginot Line comes in. While it's not possible (or advisable) to completely wall off the outside world all the time (who wants to end up like France in 1940?), it's essential to recreate some boundaries around your work time so that you can think without interruption. Close the door. Go to a conference room or a coffee shop. Spend a weekend at a meditation center. Whatever works for you. But for god's sake, put away the iPhone and turn off the internet connection.

Thinking and creating is hard work. It requires energy. Often it isn't very much fun. The prevalence and ease of distraction -- particularly electronic -- is a seriously enticing alternative to hunkering down with your thoughts and a blank piece of paper. But if you can maintain your focus on that blank piece of paper instead of mindlessly and reflexively following another distraction, you'll be much happier.

What's your Maginot Line going to be? What kind of defensive walls will you build?

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24/7 availability does not create peak performance.

Mark Graban's latest post on Chrysler's CEO, Sergio Marchionne, reminded me of a recent visit to a client's R&D facility. Two of the managers bemoaned the incessant demands on their teams. Even as recently as a few years ago they would have downtime after the completion of a project when staff could go on vacation, work shorter hours, and generally refresh themselves. But no more. Layoffs and increasing pressures from the executive team means no more breathers. It’s constant pressure year-round now. Unfortunately, as psychiatrist Edward Hallowell says,

Making yourself available 24/7 does not create peak performance. Recreating the boundaries that technology has eroded does.

In an interview with CNET earlier this year, Hallowell explainted that “attention deficit trait” is

sort of like the normal version of attention deficit disorder. But it’s a condition induced by modern life, in which you’ve become so busy attending to so many inputs and outputs that you become increasingly distracted, irritable, impulsive, restless and, over the long term, underachieving. In other words, it costs you efficiency because you’re doing so much or trying to do so much, it’s as if you’re juggling one more ball than you possibly can.

Organizations are sacrificing their most valuable asset, namely the imagination and creativity of the brains they employ, by allowing ADT to infest the organization.

Pick up any business journal this year and at least once a week you’ll read about the need for innovation. Companies hire consultants, conduct off-site retreats, install “chief innovation officers” (whatever that means — probably a sign of a non-innovative company), and give employees toys from the Fisher Price catalog in an effort to spur innovative thinking.

But maybe they’re missing the mark. (In the case of the “chief innovation officer,” there’s no maybe about it.) Maybe what the staff needs is some time away from the office, away from the Blackberries, away from meetings. Maybe they need to go hiking and rafting away from their electronic tethers.

Of course, you don’t have to go that far. As Hallowell says,

It’s not that hard to deal with, once you identify it. You need to set limits and preserve time to think. Warren Buffett sits in a little office in the middle of nowhere and spends a lot of his time just thinking.

Back to Sergio Marchionne: you could make a powerful argument that his job above all requires innovation, creativity, and imagination. Does answering his six Blackberries within minutes or seconds, 24/7, have a negative effect on his own performance? (And for that matter, the fact that so many decisions are funneled through him surely has negative consequences. The always-available executive subtly undermines the people around him by telegraphing that his team is incapable of running things on their own. A good question might be why Marchionne has to make all of these decisions at all times.)

Think about it: getting more with less — less energy, less time, less effort. If we can apply lean thinking (creating more value with fewer resources) at the macro-level to manufacturing and services, why can’t we apply it at the micro-level to individual output?