Reducing Distractions

A few years ago, the owner of Puget Systems told me about a product that had helped him better focus on his work. I'd been feeling less productive and more distracted, so I decided to install the application he recommended which is called Rescue Time. I installed the free version, and let it do its thing in the background. 

In the meantime, I tried not to change how I went about my day. I usually feel less productive in the morning so I do tasks that don't require as much mental energy like email. By the time the afternoon rolled around, I felt my body and mind loosen up to the point where I could take on more taxing work such as research and writing. 

I believe a week went by before I looked at the Rescue Time reports that showed me how I spent my time at my computer. Rescue Time includes a lot of information, but I focused on two areas: time of day and time spent at various websites. 

At first glance of the report I was floored.

I wasn't as productive as I thought I was in the afternoons and I was spending hours each day on Facebook. I'm embarrassed to admit that some days I was spending more than four hours on Facebook. By spending so much time on Facebook and ESPN, I was pushing my work well into the evenings and weekends. Yet the most damaging part was that I was allowing myself to be distracted at the very times I thought I was the most productive. 

I wish I could tell you I found a simple solution that solved my problem. I wish I had a quick and simple solution to share with you. 

But I don't. 

What I do have is a couple of years worth of trial and error. I've found a lot of things that haven't helped and a handful of things that do. And I'm finally at the point where I've had enough success that I feel comfortable sharing that with you: 

  1. Remove Facebook – Facebook was my single largest time suck by a wide margin. I tried telling myself I could only check it once my work was done, but that failed miserably during the election season. Or World Series. Or….whatever.  What has helped a lot is removing the Facebook app from my phone and the Facebook shortcut from Chrome. Maybe your time suck is ESPN or CNN or Reddit. I wish I had done this sooner. Today I spend less than one hour on Facebook a week, and it feels great. 
  2. Schedule Email – I used to leave a browser tab open for my email. I'm not a heavy email user, but it still meant that I'd receive a visual reminder I had new email about a dozen times a day. I'd be deep into a writing assignment and suddenly Gmail would pull me away from that to….delete SPAM. Today, I look at my email twice a day. I've also removed all visual and sound notifications when new email arrives from my browser and phone. I just don't enjoy email so why would I allow it to pull me away from work I do enjoy?
  3. Hide Phone – OK, so you don't need to hide it, but don't keep it face up on your desk while you try to work. I bought a wallet case for my phone which allows me to close it. But you don't need a wallet case to turn it over. I used to think I needed my phone nearby for emergencies. But it comes at a huge cost to productivity. Sometimes I go a step further and put my phone in airplane mode for those times I'm under a deadline. 
  4. Use Headphones – I know some people find background music distracting, and if you're one of those people, I'm sorry. When I'm working at my PC, I enjoy listening to instrumental Jazz music on my Kingston Hyper-X Cloud II headphones. They do a great job of keeping out sounds emanating from around my home. When my family sees me wearing these, they know I'm working and leave me alone. 
  5. Write it Down – I know it sounds simple, but I start my day by writing down the tasks I must complete that day on a digital sticky note. I then drag the note over to my second or third monitor so it's in front of me during the day. Most professional planners recommend taking a week or even month view of your tasks, and that's fine. I tend to move those types of tasks to my calendar. But I've been more productive when I'm focused on completing a handful of must-complete tasks that very day. 

These have helped me regain my focus and be more productive at my job. I don't know if any of them will work for you, but I share them with you just in case one of them works for you. 

What tips do you have for being more productive?