There is no denying my love for the internet; very rarely does a day go by where I’m not browsing Hacker News / Reddit / Twitter / various industry blogs / etc. on multiple occasions and within a rapid succession. I can see the wear marks on my Command/T keys from opening blank tabs, my fingers often typing a few short letters to the most frequented domains and hitting enter all within the blink of an eye. “Why am I checking Twitter again, I know nothing relevant has changed in the past five minutes,” I often wonder.
My belief is that this all started with my first cell phone. No longer could I escape the grasp of my social circle, as a tool once used for communication while around the home and office quickly found us all a few short button presses away from one another. I randomly check my phone hundreds of times a week to ensure I haven’t missed anything important from calls to texts to emails to any number of updates (spoiler alert: I never do).
In other words, it’s safe to say I’m addicted to the sharing of information. I want to be in the loop. I want to know what is going on at all times. If there was a way that I could get updates to my brain while sleeping, I would likely be one of the first to sign up for the service.
And for the most part I enjoy this addiction and believe it to be mostly beneficial . I feel as a general rule, we are more interesting as people the more information we intake throughout our lives. We all want to be the guy at the party who has his ear to the ground and can always without fail cite an interesting tidbit of information. A thread on Reddit a few weeks ago asked what one thing would you want uploaded to your brain “Matrix” style, and besides a few humorous and snarky comments, Wikipedia quickly showed up as one of the top comments; I immediately agreed.
And while turning yourself into the smartest person in the room is all well and good, there are plenty of times where we need to put aside all distractions and get shit done. I put this into practice for the past month in an effort to discover first the problem areas and then worked on trimming the fat.
Discovering What Needs to Change:
Before correcting any habits, I had to first discover what needed to change.
We use Toggl at work so it was easy to pull some reports for the past month on where I had been spending my time. If nothing else, I do pride myself on keeping as honest as possible in my time tracking.
It’s a great resource for getting a big picture breakdown of where time has disappeared. Similar software like RescueTime offers some great functionality such as automatic tracking of your time, reminders to get back to work, and the ability to block distractions as well.
Analyzing this data makes it easy to discover how much time a day you spend on tasks relevant to work that needs to get done.
It also revealed to me that I often start slow in the mornings. Coming back from lunch was also one of those moments throughout the day where I had to restart the wheel spinning.
I noticed that the times I most commonly checked a site unrelated to the work at hand was while waiting for slow page loads (bad for site visitors, bad for productivity).
And with that data, I mapped out ways in which I could improve my use of time.
How to Get Rid of Distractions:
In order of severity, here are some varying levels of tools that can eliminate distractions at the flip of a switch or pull of a cord:
6) Put It Off Until Later : The distractions, of course. I suggest Pocket (formerly Read it Later). For someone like myself with plenty of bus commuting each day, this is the best way to make sure I don’t forget what I wanted to read during the day without having to actually stop what I’m doing to read it.
5) Get Anti-Social : Anti-Social does one thing and does it well. It will block sites like Facebook, Twitter and anything else you specify for as long of a time as you want. As someone who loves staying up to date, it took some getting used to blocking these sites out of my day, but the benefits are exponentially visible after just the first few weeks of utilizing such an app.
4) Plan Weekly/Hourly/Daily : I have never been a big fan of micro-managing my schedule as I always want to be prepared to shift focus on a moment’s notice if any type of fire needs to be put out. However I also noticed that my time was very rarely focused long enough on any given project to make true progress.
I started using Trello (a huge improvement over sticky notes all over my desk) as a way to break down my weeks/days/hours into small and very realistic chunks. 30 minutes here, an hour there, Trello allows you to quickly break down jobs into manageable tasks, and at the date of this post, is free.
3) Start Billing Yourself : Set up a jar at your desk full of [quarters, dollars, hundred dollar bills] (depending on your salary) and put it next to a donation jar. Every time you want to take a break to browse something not related to the task at hand, move some of the money from the full jar into the donation jar. At the end of the month, pick a charity and donate the money (your coffee fund probably isn’t registered as a 501(c) so don’t even bother trying to justify that).
After a while you will find that you are getting sick of being a generous person and start getting more productive. You win, charities lose.
2) Change Your Environment : I sometimes find myself in a funk if I am in any one location for more than a few days working. Sometimes just stepping away for a bit is a great refresher, but even more, occasionally picking a day to work from home, from a local coffee shop or any other tech-friendly location (The Seattle Public Library is a personal favorite), can often times result in some of the most productive days as a change in scenery is refreshing.
1) Unplug Yourself Entirely : Disconnect your router, sign out of email, leave your phone out of earshot.I know that this can get complicated when your job requires internet access to function, but for the real nitty-gritty, the occasional disconnect can be invaluable.
When it’s crunch time and you need to push it to the limit, I suggest you push it to the limit.