If you look at most of the recycled workplace productivity advice on the web, you’ll get the same advice over and over again. People will tell you to disconnect from the internet, log out of all applications, and silence your smartphone. And while that’s good advice, it’s pretty useless for those of us who are required to be connected at all times in order to fulfill our job duties.
As someone who has to use the internet, smart devices, and various applications to perform job-related functions, how do you avoid unnecessary distractions and stay as productive as possible?
The Irony of Technology
Productivity can be described as the efficiency with which you complete tasks in pursuit of accomplishing goals. It’s not necessarily about doing things fast, per se – though speed is certainly a factor in some situations. More often than not, it’s about being as efficient as possible with the resources you have to move closer to a predetermined objective.
It doesn’t matter if you drive a garbage truck or run a $100 million company; your ability to maximize productivity will benefit you in your career. But every situation is different. And while technology can help facilitate productivity through strategic automation, it doesn’t always have a streamlining effect. For many, it can actually hinder results.
If you look at your own personal life, you can pinpoint numerous areas where technology helps and quite a few areas where it holds you back. In the help column, you might include things like voice-to-text technology on your phone, calendar applications, and the ability to quickly research information on Google. But in the distraction column, you’ll find social media, smartphone games, and Netflix streaming.
The same goes for your work life. And while a garbage truck driver, athlete, or hairdresser can block out digital distractions relatively easily and perform the task at hand, professionals in fields like internet marketing, graphic design, or even accounting face a constant onslaught of technological “traps” every time they use their computers. If not dealt with strategically, these distractions can ultimately prove to be your downfall.
8 Tips for Maximum Productivity
In a very real sense, the ability to remain productive in spite of distractions is a matter of personal discipline. But on the other hand, there are some practical steps you can take to make it easier to remain disciplined.
In other words, you can’t ignore the fact that technology creates issues. But if you can learn how to suppress distractions while remaining connected, you’ll end up benefiting from all of the good that technology can do. Here are a few tips:
Optimize Your Workspace
The very first step is to optimize your office. If your workspace isn’t conducive to productivity, then it doesn’t really matter what else you do – you’ll always be playing from behind.
Optimizing your workspace is all about minimizing distractions and making yourself as comfortable as possible. (Not so comfortable that you fall asleep, but comfortable enough that your body is supported and you aren’t putting unnecessary pressure on your joints.)
Check out BTOD.com’s Facebook page for some inspiring pictures of different home offices. Many of their customers use a combination of standing desks, ergonomic desk chairs, and other technology to create workspaces that optimize to the individual user’s unique needs.
Wake Up Earlier
If you work in a job where you’re constantly flooded with notifications, you might just need to wake up earlier. In doing so, you can give yourself a headstart on the day.
For example, let’s say most of your colleagues begin working at 8:30 a.m. In fact, as soon as the clock hits half-past eight, you can guarantee email and slack notifications will begin piling up. There’s nothing you can do about it. But what if you started your day a bit earlier? Instead of hopping on your computer at 8:30 a.m., you could wake up a few minutes early and get on at 7:45 a.m. or 8 a.m. This gives you 30 to 45 minutes of uninterrupted time to start your day and get ahead on things. Then when the onslaught occurs, you’re prepared.
Start the Day With a List
If you start your morning without a plan, you’re like a tumbleweed in the wind. Wherever the wind blows, that’s where you’ll go. But if you show up each morning with a list of tasks and objectives, you’re the one in charge.
For best results, plan your day out before going to bed the previous evening. Write down everything you want to accomplish in a notebook or productivity app. Then when you wake up in the morning, organize these tasks into sequential order. Yes, things will likely change as the day matures, but having a plan on the front end sets you up to be more successful.
Eliminate Email Whenever Possible
Email is terribly distracting. While it serves a purpose, it’s not optimized for productivity. It’s a massive black hole of information that vies for your attention and constantly says, “But wait…there’s more!”
Except for external purposes, you should seek to eliminate email as a form of communication within your business. Instead, opt for more efficient messaging apps (like Slack) and/or project management solutions where communications can be attached to each individual task.
Use Your Phone’s “Do Not Disturb” Settings
Most people don’t even realize that their smartphones have built-in productivity settings. Once you know they’re there, you can simply optimize and toggle on.
For example, every newer smartphone has some sort of “do not disturb” feature that allows you to control which notifications are sent to your phone, when they’re sent, and how you’re notified. For example, with a push of a button, you can silence all notifications from everyone who isn’t your boss or spouse. Or you can choose to silence all SMS and email notifications, while still allowing phone calls to come through. It’s totally your call.
Use Distraction Blocking Apps
Need to get some deep work done while using the internet? Sometimes willpower alone isn’t enough to prevent your mind from wandering to social media outlets or news websites. In these cases, having a website blocking app can help.
FocusMe is arguably the best option. It allows you to block specific websites for predetermined periods of time (or even permanently). It also has the added benefit of prodding you to take a break and encouraging you to schedule your time more efficiently for particular tasks.
Try the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is an ancient technique that continues to work in today’s busy, digitally-connected world. Here’s how it works:
- Choose a task
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Work on that one task until the timer dings
- Take a short 3-to-5-minute break
- Repeat this cycle four times
- After completing four sessions, take a longer 20-minute break
The power of the Pomodoro Technique lies in its approachability. It’s short enough to make the task seem manageable, but long enough to allow you to get things done. And by splicing breaks in between the sessions, there’s motivation to push through. (You can download a Pomodoro application on your devices to make tracking cycles easy.)
Conduct a Daily Standup Meeting
Most meetings are a waste of time. People show up late and there’s a bunch of small talk on the front end. Once the meeting starts, people start throwing out ideas and muddying the water with unrelated questions and ideas. Then at the end, people leave without any action steps or clear ownership over specific tasks. So then you schedule another meeting to clean up the pieces. (Rinse and repeat.)
Meetings kill productivity. Instead, begin each day by conducting a 15-to-20-minute standup meeting with your team. These meetings always start precisely on time and there’s absolutely no small talk. Each person is given two to three minutes to discuss what they accomplished yesterday, what they’re currently working on, and what obstacles stand in their way. At the end of the meeting, each individual is given clear action steps for the day.
Turn Technology Into an Asset
Technology can be a distraction or an asset. The hope is that after reading this article, you now have a list of several proactive steps you can take to neutralize the nefarious traps of modern technology and maximize the powerful benefits. It won’t happen overnight, but there’s progress that can be made this week. Begin with a few small steps and let the momentum build!
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.