How to Be More Productive
This post is a follow-up to my previous post “Jealously Guard Your Attention”.
While the previous post was primarily philosophical in nature, this post is practical by design.
The purpose of this post is to outline the framework I used to reclaim my time.
I do not know your situation. I’m not your accountability coach. I’m going to tell you what worked for me, and you can decide for yourself if any of it is worth applying in your life.
- Make a List of Your Distractions
For one whole day I wrote down everything I did that could be categorized as a “distraction”.
Here is what really stood out to me:
Checking my email compulsively (20+ times a day)
Opening my browser to Google random shit all the time
Getting on social media too often
Wasting time watching random YouTube videos
Opening Spotify/YouTube to switch songs and playlists
Spending too much time on VentureBeat, TechCrunch, HackerNews etc…
Checking sports scores regularly
Playing Risk (a mobile game) on my iPhone
Watching Netflix / TV
I estimate that I was spending a
minimum of 2-4 hours a day
on these activities.
This brought me to an important realization.
I was wasting my life five minutes at a time.
Inc. Magazine published a study saying that in an eight-hour day, the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes.
Do you really think that an employee sits around for 5 hours and does nothing? That would be too obvious. They do the same thing I did, and that you do. They switch back and forth between browser tabs. They check social media intermitedly. They play games on their phones when no one is around.
Turns out that wasting our time on distractions isn’t even the biggest issue though…
Research has shown that switching between tasks can cost up to 40% of your productive time.
In essence, each time you break focus with your current task, it makes you much less productive when you resume the task you were originally doing. You going back and forth between your work and social media creates a mental block that exacerbates your productivity loss.
I was pretty shell shocked when I realized how bad my problem really was.
- Minimize or Eliminate Each Distraction
I decided that I was going to eliminate, or at very least minimize each of the distractions I was wasting my time on.
for Google Chrome (a browser extension) and blocked every single one of the news sites I would waste time. I also blocked YouTube, FarFetch, and pretty much any other site that was not actually adding value to my life but distracting me regularly. If I need to visit any of those sites I can get around it, but it puts me in “opt-out” mode by default. I estimate that this alone has saved me at least an hour a day.
I’ve got Instagram for work, and end up habitually checking it.
To deal with this I put the app icon in a folder, and then moved the folder onto the second page off of my home screen. Out of sight, out of mind. This worked so well that I did it with all my apps. I put my mobile browser in that folder, my gmail app in that folder etc… Making these apps less accessible drastically reduced the number of times I check them.
The other apps that I didn’t need (game apps) etc.. I deleted.
I keep the home screen of my phone app-less with the exceptions of the bare essentials
(i.e. call button, message button, settings). I estimate this also saves me about an hour a day.
Television + Netflix
I tried to give up watching TV, but I just couldn’t do it. There are some TV series that I really enjoy watching. Instead of banning myself from TV,
I give myself a free day. Every Sunday I can watch as much TV as I want. This has resulted on me focusing just on the series that I actually enjoy, instead of “browsing” and wasting time on TV shows that I don’t give a shit about.
The “free day” technique can be used for anything you enjoy doing, but want to minimize. Give yourself a certain day or time frame in which you allow yourself to do that thing, but don’t do it outside of that time period (i.e. set boundaries).
I haven’t had Facebook for years, so that wasn’t an issue. I already mentioned what I did with Instagram. The only remaining perpetrator was Reddit. I generally get on Reddit to check TRP, but end up getting sucked into checking the front page and a few other sub-reddits.
I decided that I will only check TRP once a day, at night, and have stuck to that pretty well.
I’ve made a conscious effort to try and check my email less, and have made a few changes that help me out.
The first thing I do is log out of my gmail account after checking my email.
This makes it so I can’t just go to “gmail.com” and see my emails automatically. The additional friction of having to login makes me less likely to check my email unless I need to.
The second thing I did was
disable email notifications on my phone, and move my gmail app to a folder off of my home screen (previously mentioned). These small and simple changes put my email checking habit in line with where it probably should be, instead of the unconscious obsession it was before.
Googling Random Shit
Immediately googling something I thought up happened way too often.
I now ask myself if what I want to Google is worth writing down, and if so make a note to Google it later. If it’s not worth writing down, I don’t check it. This extra step (increased friction) makes me less likely to compulsively google random shit.
Music + YouTube
YouTube was my was blackhole. I could waste ungodly amounts of time on YouTube. I blocked it entirely. It was too big a temptation. Once I feel like the habit is gone I may unblock it, but for now it’s dead to me. I took the time to make a few giant and awesome playlists on Spotify, and will now listen to a playlist for 3+ hours without having or wanting to go and change what I’m listening to.
I keep my cell phone off and out of sight at least 70% of my waking hours.
In the event that I need to have my phone on or available, I make sure it is out of sight and not within reaching distance as much as possible - either in a pocket in my bag, or in a desk drawer etc… Relying on my cell phone to amuse or distract me was second nature, and this was the easiest and most effective way I found of breaking this habit. Interesting side note, actually making myself unavailable has resulted in an increased number of double texts from both women and male friends. Overall it doesn't seem to have affected my game or social life as I'll keep it on during weekend afternoons/nights especially.
Doing these things didn’t make me immune to distraction, but I’m probably 80-90% better than I was before.
Being a man is recognizing what your weaknesses are, and doing something about them.
Removing distractions from my life has made me feel considerably more satisfied with my life. It feels as though I have three days worth of time in one day. There is no way I’m going back to the meaningless habits and activities that I fell prey to before.
Has eliminating my distractions turned me into a robot and eliminated happiness from my life? No.
Eliminating my distractions has given me more time to pursue activities that actually add value and meaning to my life.