Imagine you had to unwrap each of these…

How to Find More Time for Intense, Idea-Generating Focus

When you aren’t consuming everyone else’s thoughts, actions, and ideas, your thoughts and ideas can rise to the top.

Ellen Goodwin
5 min readMay 26, 2023


Imagine for a moment that every M&M you ever encountered was individually wrapped.

Plain. Peanut. Caramel. Peanut Butter. It wouldn’t matter.

Every tasty M&M would come to you encased in cellophane, and you had to doggedly unwrap each one to enjoy it. Chances are you’d eat less of them because the unwrapping process would squash their enjoyment.

When it takes 5 minutes to get a handful of M&Ms ready to scarf down, you’d most likely turn to something sweet that takes less effort to enjoy.

Now, imagine that each time you logged into the social media channel of your choice, you had to successfully answer a math problem before you could scroll to the next post. How much time and energy would you spend scrolling before you gave up and logged out? Probably not long.

Unsurprisingly, as humans, especially stressed or tired humans, we find satisfaction in things that don’t require us to use a lot of mental or physical energy. We want new and novel diversions to make us forget that we’re stressed or tired and we don’t want to work for them.

This presents a productivity problem.

The more mindless, new, and novel things we easily enjoy, the more we train our minds to seek them out at the expense of our ability to concentrate deeply.

After all, how can you focus intensely if you are constantly picking up your phone and looking at new Instagram posts? Or checking TikTok? Or the news?

How purposefully are you thinking if you check your email every 6 or 7 minutes? (I’m not exaggerating. According to research, during a regular 8-hour work day, the average person checks their email 74 times.) It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that indulging in more distracting activities means less time to do deep work.

If you’re constantly consuming the thoughts and opinions of other people, when do you spend serious time thinking so you come up with new ideas of your own?



Ellen Goodwin

Productivity Consultant, TEDx Speaker, Podcast Co-host, Author of DONE: How To Work When No One Is Watching. Learn more at