Be less distracted, more productive


I’ve found myself having this problem over and over: distraction.

Aside from the offline ones, I’ll focus on the online ones for now.

It just amazes me sometimes how late it already got and how little progress I made in my to-do list. It’s not just amazing, but sad, and costly. And I yet have all those things pending! So I’d also say: frustrating.

Where did that time go? Well, most I don’t know, somehow it just vanished. Many times I’m fully aware, and it usually boils down to distracting things I have at my fingertips, almost in front of my eyes, most of the time.

Things like Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, StumbleUpon, Digg, Instructables (those last two not so much lately), etc. Facebook is a big one, since it doesn’t just show you the contact’s activities, but also all those pages one “likes” and keep posting new, interesting, damned articles.

Well, I kinda fixed the Facebook thing and Gmail lately, a bit.

Gmail I’m not opening every single email anymore now, and I’m not labeling everything, either, creating filters or organizing the arriving messages anymore. I just:

  1. Quickly glance the inbox’ top.
  2. Delete all the uninteresting or irrelevant ones immediately.
  3. Delete Facebook notifications (I’ll be shown those over there when I visit, anyway).
  4. Open the important ones and reply if necessary.
  5. Ignore the rest, leaving it unread in the inbox.

It’s worked OK so far, have been checking email much faster now. Yet, I go back to that inbox all too often, so now I decided to not keep that tab open all the time and, instead, visit it in two or three times a day only. Now I just have to do it. :P

Facebook has been a bit more challenging, it still takes too much time. Some days I just opt for not even going to the Newsfeed. I still go to the Internet Marketing Super Friends group daily, usually straight from the bookmark.

Despite the lack of visits, I still find myself wanting to see every single item in the News Feed sorted by Most Recent when I do spend time there. The last couple times I did make it faster browsing similar to Gmail.

  1. Ignore most new connections of friends with others I don’t recognize immediately from the picture or name.
  2. If I recognize someone, I may request to connect myself, but that rarely happens now.
  3. I try to just browser the feed fast and if I see anything interesting, open it in a new tab (the post time is the permalink to the post).
  4. Get as fast as possible to the point where I left last time.
  5. Go to the tabs I opened, read and close them one by one. Whatever I’ll do with them, I try to do quick: comment, share, bookmark; and if I don’t see an immediate use, I’m trying to close even without fully reading.
  6. Important not to leave them for later cause they tend to stay there for days.

Another thing that helps browse the News Feed faster is to have every contact and page organized in a few focused lists that you can then filter your News Feed by for a quick, on-topic browsing. I find that the most time consuming ones are the pages with too many interesting articles almost daily. But browsing by topic actually makes it faster than jumping from one thing to the next randomly. I have to add that the list filters don’t work very well and sometimes mixes updates from seemingly random contacts not in the list.

And yet another thing that’s great to remove stuff from the News Feed is to hide the application notifications, e.g. FarmVille, Mafia Wars, Horoscopes, etc., caused by friends that use them. Hover over the top-right corner of the notification and you’ll see a “hide” button appear. Click it and you’ll be presented with three options: click the middle one to hide that app in the feed. Voila! Do this with every app you see show up there, that you don’t care about, and you’ll cut down the browsing time considerably.

I’ve just installed RescueTime to log what I do and see if I finally notice where the rest of the hours went. Even if they are spent on things that I’m aware of, I’m sure that I’ll be able to optimize best if I know where it’ll pay off most.

A while ago I read a nice article by Paul Graham on distractions. His solution is very nice, but I’m afraid that I don’t have a second computer to do it myself, but I try to come close with what I have.

What I’m going to try starting today is to keep my browser open for work only (during work time) and close it when not in use. I find that having it minimized just begs to bring it to the front too often, usually with an array of open tabs that are way too distracting. Most of my work is web related, so I can’t just not use the browser, but I can keep only the production pages open. And close everything else. Close the browser when not in use.

Another big one is chats. I used to have Trillian open all the time, with all the MSN, AOL, Yahoo! and ICQ chats online. I don’t have that many contacts, but those I have are very nice to chat with usually. That made them worse! Chats started dwindling with the years, but the best was to simple not start the chats at all. Went to edit the Windows startup programs and got the chat ones out.

Well, let’s see how these changes I just made today do make a difference in how much I get done a day.

Post a comment on how this helps you or what you can suggest me to do to improve what I’m doing! :)

Edited to add the procedure to hide Facebook apps notifications from the News Feed. I just taught my wife how to do it and realized I missed including it here.

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  • Ron

    I empathize with your struggle and I imagine that we are not alone. I installed a firefox plugin called Leechblock to restrict certain websites that tend to distract me. Thanks for the resources you posted!

  • clavaque

    Thanks Ron! And I’m glad you liked the resources.

    I’ve tried similar things to that addon in order to block access to certain websites before, but if I’m not controlling myself, then that doesn’t work. I just fire up another browser or end up disabling the addon. :P

    What I need to do is just not open them. If I keep all the tabs of the browser related to the work I have to do, then I feel weird opening an unrelated one. Having a ton of different things open, then I just jump from one to the other easily. That’s why I opted for the “less tabs” solution.

    But I’m glad that the addon you mentioned helps you. :)

  • Joe Tran

    Hi Christian, I also have opt out of most things in FB and only concentrate on only a few. Internet Marketing Super Friends being one. After the San Diego conference and listening to John Jonas speak about “multiplying yourself”, I have made it a goal to find help. I’ve a virtual assistant now and others in the wing.
    When I get these in place, not only will I be more productive but will also help “me” door more.

  • clavaque

    Hi Joe, thanks for visiting. :)

    Yeah, what Jonas promotes is good, Jeff Mills too. One has to delegate in order to expand the limit of what one can do and they provide an affordable way to do it. I definitely plan to hire people as soon as I can. Good for you, taking that step. I hope you take advantage of your VA and get a few more employees to grow your business fast!