A little more on my zero-distraction policy & quantified focus time

I used to think multitasking was great, but it creates more hours, more stress and less productive work.

That’s fine in a traditional office if you don’t have a lot of work coming in, but I work from home and have internal work and R&D to fit in after my client work. If I want time to work out, cook a healthy meal and spend time with my partner, my hours need to be productive in order to finish at my target time.

The fastest, calmest way to finish something is to block out all other thoughts and just focus on getting it done.

Forget that it needs to be done today or that it’s a dependency in a five stage plan- those are just sucking up mental energies that could be going towards finishing and moving on.

How to get focused

1. All alerts are killed on desktop, iPad and mobile (apart from WhatsApp on mobile and one slack channel, which I check into at times that work for me). My mobile phone is on silent, and usually in the hall, rather than on the desk, to reduce the temptation to check it. Calls sync to my fitbit, so I have some assurance that nothing urgent is happening.

2. Tabs that aren’t task related are closed. I do create a note in Evernote for the tabs I had open if I feel I need them to remind me of something later on, and those reminders are filtered to either my paper agenda to-do list or my project planner.

3. My dock bar and notification bars are hidden on MacBook, because even seeing app icons acts as reminders of other tasks and projects instead of fully focusing on the task at hand. Anything interesting I want to read is tagged and bookmarked for later. You’d be amazed how infrequently they appear as absorbing after hours.

Getting Quantified with focus time

I describe myself as a creative quant, so I have:

1. wakatime installed for sketch and sublime text, and

2. Timely time tracker, which shows a timeline of what files in what apps I’ve worked on today, what tasks I closed in Trello and Asana and what emails I sent.

Sometimes, I define tasks badly and get to the end of the day feeling like I’ve achieved nothing because they’re still pending. That timeline is a reminder of all I’ve done. And to define tasks better.

3. I also have Rescue Time running on desktop and mobile so I get a report on my week’s productivity. Despite all the steps I take above, I’m always dismayed by the number of hours that get logged in WhatsApp vs Memrise by the end of the week. But Whatsapp is how I talk to family overseas, and some things are invaluable.

But what about breaks?

Yes, I check my phone on breaks. But in reality, my mobile isn’t going to help me feel refreshed. In terms of helping problem-solving, lift my mood or re-energise, it’s better to play a few chords on guitar or ukulele, water my plants, or meditate for 5 minutes than hitting up social media where everyone is blasting out political ideas upsetting news.

There is a mental hack not included here, because I’m not a cyborg with mega-dicipline. But I’ll leave that for next time.

What about you? How do you get focused and in the zone? Got any tips for me?


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Stay in touch

Get more informal notes, summaries, and screenshots, on the business of making digital products and running a calm creative business by signing up to my newsletter