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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

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.

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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.

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        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”.

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          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.

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              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!

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

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

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                  Last Updated on November 19, 2019

                  7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy

                  7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy

                  “Busy” used to be a fair description of the typical schedule. More and more, though, “busy” simply doesn’t cut it.

                  “Busy” has been replaced with “too busy”, “far too busy”, or “absolutely buried.” It’s true that being productive often means being busy…but it’s only true up to a point.

                  As you likely know from personal experience, you can become so busy that you reach a tipping point…a point where your life tips over and falls apart because you can no longer withstand the weight of your commitments.

                  Once you’ve reached that point, it becomes fairly obvious that you’ve over-committed yourself.

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                  The trick, though, is to recognize the signs of “too busy” before you reach that tipping point. A little self-assessment and some proactive schedule-thinning can prevent you from having that meltdown.

                  To help you in that self-assessment, here are 7 signs that you’re way too busy:

                  1. You Can’t Remember the Last Time You Took a Day Off

                  Occasional periods of rest are not unproductive, they are essential to productivity. Extended periods of non-stop activity result in fatigue, and fatigue results in lower-quality output. As Sydney J. Harris once said,

                  “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

                  2. Those Closest to You Have Stopped Asking for Your Time

                  Why? They simply know that you have no time to give them. Your loved ones will be persistent for a long time, but once you reach the point where they’ve stopped asking, you’ve reached a dangerous level of busy.

                  3. Activities like Eating Are Always Done in Tandem with Other Tasks

                  If you constantly find yourself using meal times, car rides, etc. as times to catch up on emails, phone calls, or calendar readjustments, it’s time to lighten the load.

                  It’s one thing to use your time efficiently. It’s a whole different ballgame, though, when you have so little time that you can’t even focus on feeding yourself.

                  4. You’re Consistently More Tired When You Get up in the Morning Than You Are When You Go to Bed

                  One of the surest signs of an overloaded schedule is morning fatigue. This is a good indication that you’ve not rested well during the night, which is a good sign that you’ve got way too much on your mind.

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                  If you’ve got so much to do that you can’t even shut your mind down when you’re laying in bed, you’re too busy.

                  5. The Most Exercise You Get Is Sprinting from One Commitment to the Next

                  It’s proven that exercise promotes healthy lives. If you don’t care about that, that’s one thing. If you’d like to exercise, though, but you just don’t have time for it, you’re too busy.

                  If the closest thing you get to exercise is running from your office to your car because you’re late for your ninth appointment of the day, it’s time to slow down.

                  Try these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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                  6. You Dread Getting up in the Morning

                  If your days are so crammed full that you literally dread even starting them, you’re too busy. A new day should hold at least a small level of refreshment and excitement. Scale back until you find that place again.

                  7. “Survival Mode” Is Your Only Mode

                  If you can’t remember what it feels like to be ahead of schedule, or at least “caught up”, you’re too busy.

                  So, How To Get out of Busyness?

                  Take a look at these articles to help you get unstuck:

                  Featured photo credit: Khara Woods via unsplash.com

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