n this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about handling digital distractions while working from home.
Hello and welcome to episode 34 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
Digital Distractions. They are everywhere! Not just your phone and computer, but on billboards, in your car and on your TV. You just cannot escape them anymore. And that poses a problem for all of us. How can we get any quality work done if we are constantly being interrupted by a beep, ring or a breaking news banner? Well, that’s the topic for this week’s question.
Before we get into the answer for this week’s question, just a quick announcement. For all of you wonderful people enrolled in my Your Digital Life 2.0 Online course, I released the fourth supplemental class last week. You can access it via your learning centre login page. If you haven’t enrolled yet, and struggle with getting all your stuff—your commitments, projects, appointments and life—organised then this course is designed to help you by giving you the skills and know-how to develop your system so that nothing can stop you. You will learn to prioritise, build your goals into your daily life and start living the life you want to live. Details of the course are in the show notes.
Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question:
This week’s question comes from Simon. Simon asks, "How do you deal with digital distraction when working at home"?
Ahhh distractions, and not just any distractions, digital distractions and when we are working from home. Thank you, Simon, for this question. I know this one is a real issue for many people, whether or not you work from home, and if not dealt with can lead to missed deadlines and a lot of stress.
Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can follow that will help. But for these to work you are going to have to put your phone down. For some of you, I know that is going to be very difficult. But the reality is, as with any distraction, you always have a choice whether to acknowledge the distraction and let it into your life or not.
The first, obvious thing you can do is turn off those beeps and pings. You don’t need them. You are going to be looking at your phone or computer within the next few minutes anyway—we all do these days. Why do you need some kind of sound to also tell you you have a new email, a new What’s App message and a Facebook mention? Just turn the sounds off. Instead, leave the badge app icon on. What this does is leave that little red number on the app if you have anything unread. If your most important apps are on your home screen you will see that little red circle next time you pick up your phone and let’s be honest, we all look at our phones perhaps a little too frequently.
Whether you want anything showing up in your notifications list is entirely up to you. I would suggest you do an audit of your apps, both on your desktop and mobile devices and turn off any notifications from apps that are not going to be giving you anything urgent. Facebook, Twitter etc. I like to have important messages show up in my notification screen. I have my messaging apps, my email of course and any missed calls. The problem is when you download a new app, by default most of them get added to your notifications screen. My guess is you will find most of them are not required so you can turn them off.
I keep Facebook notifications on in my notification screen simply because my mother uses Facebook to communicate with me. But for all other social media my notifications are off.
The next thing you can do is to get serious about your work time. Working from home gives you a lot more freedom about when you sit down and do work. With that freedom also comes the opportunity to waste time checking email, social media and the news. And we all know these can take you journeys of pure time procrastination heaven. Not good if you want to get work done.
Use your calendar to block time out for focused work. Let’s say you block out 2 hours between 9 am and 11 am for focused work and allow yourself between 11:00 am and 11:30 am for communications. How you define communications is up to you. It could mean just email, or you could broaden it to include social media messages. Allow yourself some flexibility here. You’ve just done a period of two hours, uninterrupted work. You deserve a reward of some sort.
If you work for a company that monitors you while you are working have the discussion with your boss. See if you can have that two hours of uninterrupted time. Don’t just assume your boss will not allow it. It’s surprising how amenable to time blocking bosses are when they can see the benefits to the quality of your work it will bring.
Another great way to minimise distractions, if you can do it, is to get up early. Last week I had an early morning meeting cancel on me. I was already awake having just completed my 5-6 am studying and found I had a full morning of uninterrupted time. So, at 6 am I got on with the writing work I needed to do that day. By 8 am all my writing was complete and I had begun doing the less important stuff. By 9:30 am I had finished all my work for the day and I received no digital distractions at all. Purely by accident, I had spent three-and-a-half hours doing work with no distractions and I got all the days work done. That goes to show just how much time you lose to distractions every single day.
I’ve written about this story in the first edition of Your Digital Life, and it’s worth repeating. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, and my writing hero used to write when he was staying at his holiday home in Jamaica every January to March. Between 9 am and 12 pm every day. He would close the windows to his writing room and just write. his wife and guests staying with him knew not to disturb him and he just got on and wrote. Back in the 1950s, there were no mobile phones or computers connected to the interweb and he had no landline phone at his house, Goldeneye. It was famously sparse—we would call it minimalistic today. It was just him, his typewriter and his imagination. No distractions at all. Ian Fleming managed to write a full novel each year in just six weeks using this method.
But times have changed and we live in a very different world from 1950s Jamaica. We have a lot more digital distractions, however, I believe we should sometimes try to recreate the environment from 1950s Jamaica and just turn everything off and focus on the work we want to get done. I actually do this every Monday morning. Monday’s is when I write my weekly blog post. Between 10 am and 12 pm I sit down at my desk and write. My phone is on do not disturb, and there is no one around to distract me. For me, it is two hours of pure heaven. I can fully understand why Ian Fleming managed to write a full novel in 6 weeks. Those 2 hours of undistracted time is some of the most productive hours I have each week.
Another area you can look at is when you are at your most creative. What I mean by at your most creative is when your mind is freshest and is primed for doing work. I always thought I was a night owl. But I found that actually, I am much more creative in a morning. This means I am much less susceptible to distractions in the morning. While I can do work in the evening, I find I am much more likely to run down rabbit holes of digital procrastination and so the quality and quantity of my work suffers. Once I discovered this, I began scheduling my important work in the mornings and my less important, or less time-sensitive work in the evenings. That gave my productivity a huge boost. I was much less tempted by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and felt much more comfortable with my phone off.
Finally, another trick I use is setting deadlines to finish work. Currently, my wife is in China and each evening we have a FaceTime call. We talk around the same time every evening so I know roughly what time I need to get my evening admin work done by. This acts not only as an incentive to get my work finished it also gives me a nice deadline each evening. Our minds are very good at getting work done by a set time if we set a finish time. Quite often, particularly when we work from home, our finish time can be quite open. We think if I don’t finish by dinner-time, I can come back after dinner and continue for another hour. The problem here is your mind doesn’t have any sense of urgency when you do this. If you begin the day by fixing the time you will finish you will find you work much faster and are less likely to allow yourself to be distracted by the non-important. There is a sense of urgency and that will work in your favour.
Well, I hope you found these tips and tricks useful. Remember, your phone or any digital device is not your master and you should never ever let them become your master. Digital devices are your servants. They are there to serve you and not the other way round. If you have important work to do then give your servants time off and focus yourself on the work that needs doing.
Thank you very much for listening to this episode. Don’t forget to check out the Your Digital Life 2.0 online course, there is a lot of great stuff in there that could turn you into a productivity ninja with a system you create that you trust and helps you to get your most important projects and goals done.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.