Productivity : How to Avoid Technological Distractions

Oct 9, 2018 by Matt Dixon

There are lots of ways to be productive, even with all the technology that bombards us every minute. Here are some things I have done to stay focused throughout the day.

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1. Turn Off Email and Social Media Notifications

Absolutely, the best productivity boost. I leave Outlook open to give me reminders, but it is in the background. When I'm really trying to crank out some software my email workflow is just enough to not miss anything important. Here is my routine:

  1. In the morning, I get my day planned out
  2. Then, take a quick peek at email, sorted by sender, to see if there is anyone I'm waiting on, or an urgent matter I need to address, then minimize Outlook
  3. Work uninterrupted throughout the morning
  4. Check email around lunchtime with the same process as step 2
  5. Work throughout the afternoon
  6. Check email one last time around 4 or 5 with the same process as step 2
  7. Email will not be checked until tomorrow

This is by no means an "Inbox Zero" approach, but it's a shift to focusing on what we really need to get done.

2. Reboot Your Computer Every Morning or Evening

Sounds dumb, but sometimes I get way too many things going on. Too many tabs open. Too many programs running. It's best to start from scratch. I really didn't need to finish watching the cat video, anyway.

3. Close The Door or Wear Headphones

My office has a door that I often close. Don't worry, people will still come and bug you if it's important. If not, they may go back to their desk and send you an email you can address on your own time, instead of theirs.

If, however, you have a cubicle, some good headphones are your friend. I would recommend some over the ear headphones so everyone can see you've got Abba pumped up to 11.

4. Stay Focused With Research

When I have research to do, which is daily, I have to stay focused in order to avoid those cat videos. What is it with cat videos?

My approach is to open up a new window. Since I use a web browser for actual work building websites, I can't close them all, but using a new browser isolates the research. once my research is done, I close down my research browser window and get back to work. You'd be surprised how something as simple as a new browser window helps out.

Find what works for you to stay focused with research tasks.

5. Uninstall Games

You think I've absolutely lost my mind, and you may be right. I have zero games on my phone or work computers. None. Games are a good way to make an 8 hour workday turn into a 12 hour marathon. Quit your whining and just do it, you'll thank me later.

6. Take Breaks

Writing software is a complex task, so are most things we have to do at the computer. Taking breaks allows me to compose my thoughts, think about what I'm working on, and come back energized and focused.

Work time should be no more than one hour, and a break should be no more than a few minutes. For example, I take a 3 minute break every 50 minutes.

Get some water, stretch, and get back to work.

7. Exercise

Just give in and try it, if you aren't already. If you live in Colorado, you'll be glad that a month of the Pacific North-West is now behind us. I can finally get outside and go walking, mountain biking and hiking. Exercise should be various effort levels and duration. Don't do the same thing for the same amount of time; vary your workout routines. But you already knew that.

I would strongly encourage at least two days per week of yoga or pilates. If you really want, you can get some of those cool pants to wear, but please don't go to the grocery store while wearing them. 

Bonus - Spend Time Learning Every Day

This may sound counter-intuitive, but if we take care of our bodies, we will definitely be able to focus better. I spend at least 15 minutes every day reading a good book, or learning a new skill, technique, or technology.

Review

I've had great results with these steps above. This is by no means a fool-proof or exhaustive list, but it's a good start. Find what works for you. You may hate headphones, or really need to play a game on your phone when you have downtime. You may be in customer service, and email must be checked as it comes in. Great, do that. Most people can probably get by, or even excel, with less email.