I’m currently writing this on a full screen Notepad file. It’s the only way I can successfully write a good blog post, if I wasn’t doing just this one task I’d be on Hacker News or Wickedfire in a heart beat. Anyone who works in an office or is a big Instant Messenger knows how easy it is to blow away significant portions of your day doing seemingly “little” things like sharing stories or chatting with friends.
The biggest reason you should be cutting down your distractions and focusing on just the task at hand is because “context switching” can drastically reduce your overall productivity levels throughout the day. By simply toggling over to your Instant Messenger screen and responding to someone really quickly, you’ve broken away from your current task and it will take a few seconds to transition back. That seems like nothing, but when you’re doing that every minute, that adds up really quickly and you might end up cutting out a few hours of your day. A few good articles about this are here and here.
Additionally, a trap a lot of technical minded people fall into is checking their favorite forums or news sites to see the latest posts every 15 minutes. It seems like it’s a helpful thing to do because you’re keeping up to date in the fields you’re interested in and collaborating with like minded peers, but in reality, you’re squandering a ton of time and really just procrastinating. It’s important to stay up to date on topics and to make sure you’re at the top of your game knowledge wise, but it absolutely needs to be in moderation or else you’ll risk cutting your daily productive hours down to a mere handful.
Some Ideas to Keep You Focused
I struggle from time to time with procrastination traps. When it comes to tasks like coding or writing, I simply cannot be interrupted or I will not be able to get my shit done. I have come up with a list of things I keep in mind as I work that help me to stay on track:
- Reddit has never made anyone money, stop reading it – There’s not much explanation needed here. Reddit is a good source of funny stuff, obscure information, and occasionally relevant professional information, but overall, it’s a big fucking waste of time. I wouldn’t be surprised if a study found that Reddit reduced office productivity of 20 somethings by a significant amount. If you want to run a business, there’s nothing at Reddit for you. Point it at 127.0.0.1 in your hosts file and move on.
- Todo lists are your best friend – I write down everything I need to do before I do it, otherwise I would forget. There’s no question I would forget, it’s simply a fact. Todo lists are great for organization and great for motivation, you need to use one. Don’t trust your brain. (On a related side note, I have a really simple/cool todo list webapp built that I need to wrap some features up on and will announce here soon)
- Close your instant messenger applications – Unless you need to talk to someone on there, which a lot of us have to do for business reasons, close the damn apps down. Idle conversation will absolutely wreck your productivity levels.
- Music music music (plus headphones) – Music is huge when you need to focus. Some of my friends swear by trance/ambient/drum and bass, some hip hop. I tend to rotate through my favorite stuff, I listen to mostly punk and prog rock stuff. Anything that makes you stoked and keeps audible distractions out of your brain.
- Don’t you dare post a Facebook status update – Yeah, we all love Facebook. It’s fun to creep on people. Facebook also doesn’t make people any money either. Avoid it, check it after hours, whatever. Just don’t go to it.
Develop the Habits
I don’t have a link to this, but I have read a few studies that have shown that any habit takes at least 3-4 weeks of persistent effort to become ingrained in your work flow. Sheer willpower is what will get you back on track and focusing again, along with tips like what I wrote above. All of your heroes sitting in offices and collectives hacking at their web app startups don’t screw off on social media sites and on instant messenger, they are sitting and coding. Keep your head down and hustle.