used with permission from Microsoft at Work
og:image Having easy access to sites like Facebook on all our devices makes us all prone to higher levels of distraction. The Internet—and social media in particular—makes it all too easy to lose two minutes here, another 10 minutes there. Not to mention the time it takes to get back into the task we abandoned to check on the latest Buzzfeed cat video or read through a former high school classmate’s political rant.
But your present self can fight your future self—and win—when it’s most important.
Shut off the Internet
Productivity temporarily surges after taking a break, but constant mini breaks—checking news headlines here, Facebook there—are detrimental to getting work done. 57 percent of work interruptions come from social networks, text messages, and email. Freedom, a $10 computer app, blocks the Internet for up to eight hours at a time and forces you to restart your computer if you want to get back online. The app is Windows, Mac, and Android compatible, so you can use it across devices. Not ready to go so extreme? Its sister app,Anti-Social, blocks sites that lead down the unproductive rabbit hole, like YouTube and Twitter, while letting you remain online for research.
Don’t use your inbox as your to-do list
Try the approach. It’s all about keeping your inbox as near to empty as you can. The rigid approach to managing email ensures that you don’t rely on your inbox as your to-do list. Things get lost in email, or worse: you work your way forward toward the most recent email you received, even though the prioritization of tasks in your inbox may not be as linear as you’re approaching it.
Turn off alerts
Some of the biggest distractions come from pop-ups: we’re interrupted an average of once every 10.5 minutes. Alerts are designed to grab our attention, especially if they have sounds. Turn as many of them off as you can—including on your mobile devices. Disable Facebook notifications, turn off the sounds on your instant messaging tools, and shut off email previews. Keep calendar alerts so you don’t forget meetings, but consider also adding personal alerts that remind you to get up, drink water, or rest your eyes. Test several intervals until you find one that syncs with your working rhythm.
Divide work into manageable chunks
The Pomodoro Technique is based on short bursts of focus to complete a task. The idea is to remove all distractions, choose the one task to focus on, set a timer for 25 minutes, and work through that period until you reach a 5-minute break. Focus Booster is a digital version of this technique; you can use it on your desktop or via its website, with the ability to customize session and break lengths.
Do more during a break
When you do take breaks, opt to get up and move around the office, walk around the block, or take time to play brain-boosting games rather than tending to your crop on Farmville. Lumosity builds a personalized training program according to what you want to boost—memory, attention, speed, flexibility, or problem solving.
Once you start paying attention to your daily cadence, your workday should start to look like a carefully orchestrated symphony, filled with soft lulls and upbeat bursts of work. Find what time of day you’re most productive and capitalize on those hours, while scheduling breaks during your less-productive hours of the day. RescueTime can help you understand your daily habits by sending you a weekly report of your time spent on websites and applications. It will help you understand where your time is going and what changes you need to make. You may even find yourself able to actually leave the office on time. And not take work home. What better incentive than that: actual freedom from work.