In our tech-enabled world distractions are more abundant than we realize. Here are five tips that will help you stay on task and get things done.
I don’t know if you can relate to this. When I work, I can suddenly stop and want to look at what the time is. I have no hand watch and look at the clock on my mobile phone, just next to me on the desk. It is maybe 10:43 am and wait! Someone liked my last Facebook post. Let me check that… oh a notice from Instagram; an old friend just became a parent, they got a baby, let me like that. What was I doing again? Oh yes, what time is it? I just lost 15 minutes because I wanted to look at the time. This article will give you some tools, techniques to help you get more done, and not become distracted.
1. Mobile Device/Phone Rules
In today’s world, we have put all our tools into one device that provides: work, multimedia, social media, and games. Sure it is practical, especially when traveling. At home or in the office, it could be a distraction. It’s like you have a digital candy bag on your phone that you can reach in a second and get a quick reward. Most social media applications are given for free. You pay nothing. Actually, you pay with your time. The application is designed so that you want to stay as long as possible in the application. The infinite scrolling function makes us continue with no natural stop. Even if you get numerous likes simultaneously, the social media application distributes them in the interval to you, so you check more often. This, of course, takes a lot of our valuable time, and we have to use willpower to resist not looking.
Quick and Easy Tips
- Keep your mobile phone at a distance, preferably not in the same room that you work from. You can still get to the mobile phone in five seconds. It is not as close to you. You won’t have that same urge to scroll a feed without noticing you did it.
- Remove application notifications and sounds, except for those that are urgent.
- Move out some functions from your mobile to its own device. Such as an alarm clock. Consider not using your mobile phone as an alarm clock. If you set an alarm on your phone before going to bed, you get direct blue light that makes it harder for you to sleep. You might check an email and maybe be thinking of that, and it could be harder to sleep. Studies show we sleep less and less and that many of us are waking up in the middle of the night to look at our phones.
2. Deliver Email in Batches
We can get hundreds or even thousands of emails each day. How often is it that a new email is directed to only you and you need to reply directly? Depends on your job, of course. But most of us could probably manage to look at emails only every hour or maybe just two times a day. Of course, that is individual. We don’t want to be notified of each email that arrives. It steals our focus. If we look at emails in the same way as we look at snail mail, we get them in batches.
Let’s take help from software to deliver the emails to our inbox when we want it. You can exclude certain senders as your manager, flag emails as important based on specific words in the subject line, and so on.
One such software is Boomerang. It works for both Outlook and Gmail, which are the most common email clients. You get a 14-day free trial and no credit card is needed. To continue to use it, you need either a personal or a pro account that costs money.
For example, in Outlook, you have in the ribbon section, a Boomerang button called Inbox Pause. Press that button and your emails get delivered on a certain schedule. Then you can go through them all at once instead of being disturbed with individual email notifications.
3. Distraction-Free YouTube
I love to search for a song I like on YouTube. Then it often suggests other songs similar to the one I like. It’s great for and discovering music. But there are situations where this feature doesn’t help me. Such as at work looking for an instructional video. Suggested videos become a distraction. To remedy that, you can install a free extension called Distraction-Free YouTube.
Links for download
What does it look like?
You can toggle the extension off and on, so you can still see them when you actually want some suggestions. Let’s see what this looks like in action.
Normal YouTube view (without Distraction-Free YouTube extension)
View with a Distraction-Free YouTube extension
Using the extension gives a better focus on the video I want to watch. And it’s easier to look at the one you wanted and not lose yourself in watching suggested videos.
4. The One-item List Rule
Have you ever experienced a day where you worked a bit on many different things? Then missed doing the most important task at the end of the day? If so, this technique could help you get the right things done. It is a myth that we humans can multi-task. We can, however, switch between tasks quickly, so it feels like multitasking. If you are already doing the one-item list rule technique and want something more advanced, you can try the Pomodoro technique. Let us take a look at the one-item list rule.
A powerful trick is to decide on the most important thing you need to work on for the day. You might have many important things to get done, but it is always that one thing that is more important than the others. That will be your first and only item on the one-item list.
Find your one-item
If you have a problem to sort out, find out what that is. Ask yourself this simple question:
If I could do only one thing today and it would be worth it, what would that be?
When you know what the most important item is to work on, write that up on a post-it and put it near your working area. The purpose of that is if something disturbs you, such as a phone call, once you finished, you see the post-it and know exactly where your focus should go back to. If not, it’s so easy to start looking at email or chat channels. Don’t let your email inbox be your to-do list.
When your one-item list is completed, you write the next thing on a new post-it. You always know what is the most important thing right now. A nice side effect of that is becoming more effective.
5. Block Out Time Consuming Apps and Sites
Before starting a more difficult and often less fun task, I tend to want to play Candy Crush, look at the stock market, YouTube videos, and so on. Even if I don’t do it, it takes energy and willpower to deny it. Preferably, I want to use that energy on the difficult task ahead of me instead.
One way to help with that is by installing software that, during intervals, blocks these sites and apps. For example, maybe you need to have a report ready before a meeting, and you got two hours to do the job—schedule for two hours where your favorite time-consuming apps and sites are blocked. Your brain will not even suggest these sites or apps since you know they cannot be reached. It helps you to focus and concentrate on the report.
There is a lot of software for this, and some are free. Those that cost money have a trial.
- SelfControl App – macOS (only) – Free program that can block specific webpages or the whole Internet.
- Freedom – macOS/Windows/iOS/Android – Costs money, has a free trial, sync through multiple units, and block specific sites, apps, or the whole Internet.
Try out some or all of these ideas to get a better working environment. We are all different and have different needs; pick only those techniques that work for you.
Personally, I have started to keep my phone in another room. It makes it harder for me to lose myself in time-consuming social media scrolling. A good side effect is that I regularly have to get out of the chair and walk a few steps.
Emails delivered in batches during certain intervals is another of my personal favorites. Some email batches include only newsletters and group mail conversations that didn’t require my attention. I guess this will be the new standard in the future.
The goal is to control the technique/devices to help you reach your goals.