Advertising

How Boring Music, Burner Email Addresses, and a Smartphone Timer Increased My Work Productivity

How Boring Music, Burner Email Addresses, and a Smartphone Timer Increased My Work Productivity
Advertising

As a freelance consultant, I live and die by the clock.

The more focused time I can spend doing client work, the better results I can drive, the happier my clients are, and the greater my ability to feed my children.

For this reason, work productivity is very important to me. I can’t afford to waste time. When I’m in “work mode,” I need to stay in flow as much as possible. Distractions like phone calls, text notifications, and email alerts are the bane of my existence.

What makes this more challenging is that I’m a control freak with attention deficit issues. So every time my phone buzzes or a new email comes in, I feel an overwhelming pull to deal with it immediately. Texts need to be answered, emails must be responded to, and friends need to be acknowledged. Welcome to 2016!

I know how important it is to stay productive, but I still struggle with it. So I’m always on the lookout for new tips and tricks to help me manage distraction and stay in flow. The good news is that over the last couple of months I’ve picked up three new habits that have made me happier and more productive at work. Here they are, along with step-by-step instructions for how I pulled them off.

1. Remove Non-Critical Emails From Your Inbox

I unsubscribe from emails I don’t want. I want those emails out of my life completely. The real issue is email that is not critical but still necessary — or at least desirable. Here are a few examples:

  • Emails from my bank (“Your deposit has been accepted”)
  • Notifications from social media platforms (“Dave just posted a picture of you”)
  • Email newsletters (“New post about Instagram’s newsfeed changes”)
  • Online service (“Here’s your monthly invoice”)

I need to receive these emails. The problem is that when they come in, I feel a pull to read them and deal with them right away. I just don’t need to. They become a massive distraction. If you have the same problem, then I’d recommend signing up for Throttle, a service that allows you to sign up for anything online without using your email address. It gets the less important stuff out of your inbox.

Advertising

Step 1 – Sign up for Throttle. It’s free.

Throttle_— Stop_Giving_Out_Your_Email_Address

    Step 2 – Go back and “throttle” non-critical but necessary emails. This can take a little time, but you only have to do it once. Throttle has also set up a tips section with links that help you do this with common accounts like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Groupon.

    Throttle_Update Common Accounts

      Step 3 – Start “throttling” new stuff that you sign up for. If you’ve completed step 1, then you should have installed a browser extension during onboarding (I use Chrome). Whenever you sign up for a new account, service, or newsletter, just click the Throttle icon in the email field, or right-click and select “Authorize with Throttle”.

      Authorize_With_Throttle

        Voila! You’ve now removed unnecessary emails from your inbox and put them into a daily digest that you can read at your leisure for free. You’re also more safe and secure — but more on that in another post.

        Advertising

        2. Use Instrumental Music to Get in Flow

        I work in an open office with no walls or cubicles. I love the open feel, but noise distraction is a big problem. I’m not alone either. According to Fast Company, noise is the number one complaint about open workspaces.

        However, wearing a pair of headphones can eliminate that noise, and listening to background music while you work has the added benefit of increasing your attention rate.

        I heard this advice enough that I finally went looking for some good “work music.” I discovered “Focus” playlists on Spotify and my life will never be the same. Here’s a short guide on how to set them up.

        Step 1 – Sign up for Spotify. Don’t worry. They have a free version.

        Spotify_Web_Player

          Step 2 – Once you’re in, select “Genres & Moods”.

          Advertising

          Genres and Moods

            Step 3 – Scroll down until you see the category called “Focus.” Its icon is a Pixar-like lamp. Select it.

            Focus Playlists

              Step 4 – Pick a channel that is to your liking — just make sure it’s instrumental (you can tell that from the channel notes). My personal favorites are Peaceful Piano, Intense Studying, and Instrumental Study.

              PRO TIP: Most hardcore productivity-ists say that you will be most productive if you listen to the same instrumental song on a loop. Try it!

              3. Take Frequent 5-minute Breaks on a Clock

              As productive as you can be with the two hacks above, your body and (especially) your brain must have some time to rest. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of science to back this up.

              Even though mental breaks are important throughout the day, there will always be times that you are in flow and want to stay there.

              Here’s what I do to both add breaks to my schedule and stay productive.

              Advertising

              Step 1 – Set a 2-hour timer on your phone

              2-hour Timer-01

                Step 2 – When the timer goes off, reset it, then get up and take a break. Get a drink of water, stare out the window, or walk around the block. Do anything but think about work. Give your brain 5-10 minutes of rest.

                Mental Break

                  If you’re feeling engaged and energized when the timer sounds, then cancel it and keep working.

                  The goal is to have a system that gets you moving around and taking breaks occasionally so that you can stay in a flow state as much as possible. If you’re already there, then keep at it for a while. Just don’t forget to check back in 30 minutes or so.

                  These three hacks have made my life as a freelance consultant much more productive and enjoyable. If you decide to try one of these (or have other ideas), then drop me a comment below and let me know!

                  Advertising

                  Featured photo credit: https://www.pexels.com/ via pexels.com

                  More by this author

                  How Boring Music, Burner Email Addresses, and a Smartphone Timer Increased My Work Productivity

                  Trending in Productivity

                  1 5 Values of an Effective Leader 2 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them 3 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 4 30 Practical Ideas to Create Your Best Morning Routine 5 Is People Management the Right Career Path for You?

                  Read Next

                  Advertising
                  Advertising

                  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)
                  Advertising

                  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.

                  Advertising

                  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!

                  Advertising

                  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.

                  Advertising

                  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.

                  Advertising

                  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.

                  More on Building Habits

                  Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

                  Advertising

                  Reference

                  [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

                  Read Next