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3 Ways To Cut Your Daily Work Interruptions

3 Ways To Cut Your Daily Work Interruptions
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Nobody wakes up hoping to get little done in the day and to be distracted by a bunch of things that don’t really matter. Despite this, that’s what many office workers end up doing.

In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport talks about the “metric black hole” that so many of our activities fall into. This black hole is where the measurements of the costs for our activities fall into. Email seems productive because you’re pushing words around in the company, but most of the time it does little more than making you feel productive.

Here are 3 ways you can cut those distractions and pull productivity out of that black hole.

1. Take A New Approach To Email

Yes, email is the way most companies communicate. Quick messages are dashed off across the company with many people CC’d on them. It feels like something is actually getting done, but most often what you’re really doing is reorganizing under the guise of working hard.

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To get on top of this productivity-stealing beast, you need to take drastic action. First, only check your email twice a day at the most and set a time limit. I use the Pomodoro productivity method and I allow only one 25-minute block per day to go through my email. Putting this time limit on email means that it can’t expand into all my available time.

When I was last an employee, and the lowest person on the totem pole, even the CEO understood me only checking email twice a day. A calm, rational explanation that I needed large swaths of time to focus on my work was fine with him. He even adopted the practice of only checking his own email at 11 AM and 3 PM and loved how much extra focus he had.

Second, start scheduling almost all of your email. I use Right Inbox to only send email at 4 PM, regardless of the time I check it. The only exception is when someone is waiting on something from me and they need a response right away. This helps ensure that you’re not playing email tag as you try to clear your inbox and replies keep coming in.

Third, never check your email first thing in the morning. The thing that email is really good at is telling you what everyone else thinks is important for you that day. It rarely has any bearing on what you need to do to push your projects forward. You should figure out the night before what your most important task is. Come in and do that until you have your scheduled email block.

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Fourth, turn off all notifications on your email. Studies show that having these notifications on can cause you to get distracted from the task at hand. If you’re not focused, you’re not doing your work well. Just get used to waiting for your scheduled email times. Nothing will catch on fire, and if it does, the alarm will go off or someone will stop by your office as they run out the door in a panic.

2. Turn Off Notifications For Slack/Hipchat/Messaging

These can be great tools and many companies are diving into group-messaging tools with both feet, cutting out the need for email. The problem is that the expectation is for employees to have chat open most of the time and respond instantly to any message — no matter how trivial. I’ve talked with one manager who felt the most productive programmers were those that had a notification engine built into their code editors so they could jump to chat instantly from the task they were focussed on.

This is simply the notification problem with email exponentially increased. Simply because there is some benefit to a tool doesn’t mean that it’s a good tool.

Just like email, turn off all notifications on your chat tools. Then, quit the application in favor of scheduled checkins. I check my Slack channels twice a day — once just after my morning workout and once just after lunch. I’m already not focused on anything in particular, so there is no attention stolen.

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3. Avoid Unnecessary Meetings

Finally, let’s talk about meetings. So often, someone can easily call a meeting with 10 people for 2 hours which, in terms of salary, costs thousands of dollars, but they could never approve an expense of half that amount. Why does no one bat an eye at this?

To curb the constant meetings, start by refusing to go to any meeting that doesn’t have a clear agenda 48 hours in advance and a single clear decision that you need to be involved in. Again, with my last full-time employment, as the lowest person in the building, I put this in place and managed to avoid most meetings.

When your boss asks you to join a meeting, show them your task list and ask which item needs to get bumped off the list for the meeting. Much of the time, your boss is going to say that the meeting needs to get bumped. When I’ve used this tactic, a 2-hour meeting turned into someone coming to get me for the 15 minutes that I really needed to be there. I weighed in and then was gone.

That super-important meeting often isn’t that important — it’s just that no one has challenged it yet. In the face of a challenge, people acknowledge that the interruption in the workday is worth less than moving projects forward.

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Like I said at the beginning, there are so many distractions in your day. Cutting those distractions out and taking control of your day will mean that you get more done and don’t have to work all hours to be as productive as possible.

Featured photo credit: jpstjohn via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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