Imagine: you are at your workspace with your favorite beverage. It’s early in the workday, so now is the time to tackle that big project you need to finish. After all, that deadline is creeping up on you. You sit in front of your computer, your mind opens to creative solutions for your project, and your fingers start to caress the keyboard. Then happens the first ding – a text message. Then another ding. Then your office phone rings while your coworker rolls their chair over to your desk and starts asking you questions. And the emails – oh, those emails – start pulling at your attention.
Poof. The creative solution for your project with the looming deadline has just vacated your brain. You are back to square one. Your frustration boils up and you utter a long sigh.
Sound familiar? It should. Productivity has an enemy and its name is distraction. Researchers have found that workers who were constantly interrupted performed significantly worse on tasks than those who were uninterrupted.
And, distraction invades your personal life, too. It makes being present with your loved ones more difficult when that smartphone beckons or the tablet pulls your attention away.
So, how do you reclaim the productivity to achieve your goals and slay the distraction monster?
Behavioral design expert and former Stanford lecturer Nir Eyal, author of “Indistractable”, gives us some productivity hacks that you can do in 30 minutes.
Productivity Hacks in Less Than Two Minutes
Use your smartphone to your advantage
Apple iOS phones have a range of focus modes that silence disruptions while you’re driving, sleeping, and working. It also lets you create custom focus modes for when you’re exercising, reading, meditating, and more. Android phone’s Digital Wellbeing focus mode lets you preset a schedule to automatically mute certain apps during personal time or your scheduled focused work sessions.
As an example, Eyal says that every hour, a chime goes off on his phone to help him stay on track with his time-boxed calendar. Rather than let the hours slip by, he knows when he needs to speed up his work pace, and can correct his rate before it derails the rest of the day.
Declutter your physical desktop
Visual clutter can lead to mental clutter. Therefore, it’s important to have a clean workspace.
Eyal says you can be someone who chooses to properly organize every file taking up space on your desktop or, if you’re like him, you might cheat and simply throw everything on your desktop into a desktop file marked “Everything”.
Eyal says that may seem like too quick a fix, but he has found that sorting files into folders is an unnecessary step. His desktop is clean, and he can search for whatever document he needs in his “Everything” folder.
Productivity Hacks in Less Than 15 Minutes
Filter your emails
Don’t open and respond to all emails in the same span of time. Instead, rely on the two-touch method for emails: At the first touch, you’ll open the email and tag it for a response either “Today” or “This Week”. Then you’ll close it without replying—unless it needs an immediate response.
Tagging emails in this way frees your mind from distraction because you know you will reply during the specified time you’ve allocated for this purpose in your time-boxed schedule. Eyal sets aside time every day to reply to “Today” emails and three hours at the end of his week to respond to “This Week” emails.
It’s okay to multitask if you follow Eyal’s rule for multichannel multitasking. Use more than one channel/activity to get things done. For instance, you can walk and listen to a podcast at the same time. You can do laundry and brainstorm the opening lines for that next blog post. Eyal says that he exercises and uses the Pocket app to listen to online articles he flagged earlier.
Take a few minutes to think about how you might bundle your tasks to save time.
Productivity Hacks in Less Than 30 Minutes
Implement the 4 “R”s of hacking back your smartphone
Eyal suggests that the first three “R”s might take you 30 minutes combined, and the last takes about 30 minutes on its own.
- Remove: Kick to the curb all apps that no longer serve you or align with your values. Purging these will create more space on your phone and shrink the potential for distraction.
- Replace: Rather than give in to the temptation to constantly check problematic apps like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, consider replacing them with a new system. Delete those apps from your phone and instead add time for social media (or whatever qualifies as your “problematic app”) to a time-boxed calendar. That way you can indulge your social media craving at the allotted time, without the guilt.
- Rearrange: Create your “Essential Home Screen.” Tony Stubblebine, editor in chief of the popular Medium publication Better Human, says to sort your apps into three categories: Primary Tools, Aspirations, and Slot Machines.
Primary Tools are those you rely on frequently—the ones that get you a ride or directions to a location. Limit this category to six apps.
Aspirations are for healthy habit-building apps for meditation, exercise, reading, and more.
Slot Machine apps are the problematic ones that drive you to distraction, and if you don’t delete them, then you should remove them from your Home Screen. Eyal recommends hiding them from your display screens and instead using the search function on your phone to access them. He claims that not having that app just one click away may give you the breathing room you need to refocus on your real task.
- Reclaim: Turn off the visual and sound notifications for all apps, except for those that share urgent messages, like the phone and texting apps. Eyal says it’s a one-and-done act that pays lifelong dividends.
Making lasting changes in your life for the better takes action. So, slay the distraction monster and reclaim productivity in your life by implementing some of these great tips. You’ll find more time in your life for pursuing things that are dear to you.