This is part of my Tech Workers' Guide To Distraction Free Work

A “Big Rock” list is like a traditional To Do list, only more focused. I begin with the one thing that I must do today—my “Big Rock To Move” or “Big Rock” for short—and write down all of the items associated with accomplishing that goal.

For example, a few months ago, a software bug brought down part of the company website. Fixing the bug was my “Big Rock” and my list included:

  • Recreate the bug on my laptop
  • Fix the bug
  • Deploy the fix to production
  • Notify stakeholders
  • Add regression tests
  • Prepare for the postmortem meeting

My “Big Rock” list kept me focused and made it easy to say No to less critical tasks.

Another example: last week, my wife flew to California for a funeral. Her “Big Rock” was to have everything packed by Friday at lunchtime. So she made a list of all of the prerequisites, e.g., doing laundry, digging out travel-sized containers, etc. Because she had her list, she didn’t forget anything.

Creating a “Big Rock” list helps us focus on the day’s most critical objective.

Take action: Write down your “Big Rock” for today and brainstorm its dependencies.

Tech Workers' Guide To Distraction Free Work

Common Problems

  1. How Do I Stop Endlessly Researching Topics And Get Stuff Done?


  1. We Want To Be Distracted
  2. Proximity Matters

Practices: Just Say No

  1. Just say No
  2. Stop Looking For Drama
  3. Beware Of Taking On Extra Responsibility
  4. Make an “I won’t do” list

Practices: Say Yes

  1. Track your distractions
  2. Stay focused with a To Do list
  3. Make a “Big Rock” list
  4. Follow the 2-minute rule
  5. Try the Pomodoro Technique
  6. Make a list of questions

Practices: Control Your Physical Environment

  1. Find your Den of Productivity
  2. Eliminate distracting belongings
  3. Limit disruptive noise
  4. Listen to music
  5. Silence your phone

Practices: Control Your Digital Environment

  1. Close your email
  2. Leave social media
  3. Close your browser tabs
  4. Limit distractions from Slack
  5. Try an app blocker

Practices: Get Organized

  1. Make project documents

What do books say about distraction free work?

“You could try to pound your head against the wall and think of original ideas — or you can cheat by reading them in books.”
Patrick Collison

  1. “The Obstacle Is the Way” on handling distractions
  2. “The 4-Hour Workweek” on eliminating distractions