I often feel like I have so much on my plate that it's difficult to concentrate on just one thing at a time. Harriet Griffey writes in The Guardian, "We have known for a long time that repeated interruptions affect concentration. In 2005, research carried out by Dr Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana. More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep."
Distractions are everywhere; a recent study by the research firm Dscount found that the typical cellphone user touches his or her device 2,617 times per day. The study also found that the average user spends 145 minutes on their phones, engaging in 76 phone sessions per day. That’s nearly 2.5 hours! And it isn’t just cellphones—distractions can include television, music, other people, household chores, and loud environments. Yikes. Below are five productivity hacks that have saved me countless hours of wasted time.
1.) Turn off Notifications
Does this concern you? It freaked me out a bit, too. However, I discovered that I can turn off annoying and meaningless notifications, like Facebook birthday notifications, and be no worse for wear. If you rely heavily on email, you can keep those notifications active. The point of disabling notifications is to keep you from checking your phone every time you hear that enticing buzz. I’ve recently disabled all social media dings and my life has changed for the better. How often is an Instagram or Facebook notification that important? Set aside 2-3 times a day to check social media and I promise you won’t miss a thing. Check out this article for a quick example of how to disable your notifications.
2.) Engage in Deep Work
Deep Work is a book by Cal Newport about productivity. Here are the nuts and bolts: Deep Work is prolonged attention and work toward a goal that you are committed to achieving. What Newport calls “Shallow Work” is stuff like scheduling conflicts, what to make for dinner, folding laundry, answering emails, and tasks that don’t require full concentration. Practicing Deep Work will make you crave the experience even more—you’ll become annoyed by incessant emails and other things that distract you.
“Deep work and mindfulness share a commitment to being intentional with your attention. We don’t always realize how much we allow our attention to be claimed and manipulated and batted around like a toy by outside forces. When you sit down to, say, meditate, or focus intensely on one hard work task, the resistance you feel at first helps underscore this state of affairs.”-Cal Newport
Concentrating deeply on a given task, whether it be work, writing, or meditating, requires your undivided attention and will produce more satisfying, quality work. Click this link for an interview with Cal, discussing his book.
3.) Schedule Everything
It may seem overworn, but scheduling out your day diminishes excessive down time or over-commitments. My mornings are relatively structured: I wake up at 5:45, exercise for an hour to 90 minutes, get ready for work, and hit the road. My work day always varies, but it is never not scheduled, and same with my evenings. I pencil in friend time, freelance work time, date nights, and even phone calls home. Not only does this keep my life organized, but it reduces feelings of anxiety that always crop up when things seem out of control. Take control, and keep a schedule.
4.) The Rule of 1
At the beginning of each semester in college I’d pick up my books, print out each class syllabus, and promptly freak out over the incredible amount of work I had to do before classes had even begun. The same thing happened when I decided to start this blog: I had to write, start a website, reach out to potential interviewees, all on top of my day job. Except, all this worrying and stress never got me anywhere. What did help me feel in control was practicing the “Rule of 1.” Essentially, I make it a priority to do at least one thing, big or small, that builds toward my greater goal every day. This allows me to go to bed feeling good that I’ve accomplished something, and it adds up! Over the course of a year, each intentional action builds into a cohesive project. Try it and see.
5.) Miracle Cube Timer
I heard about the Miracle Cube from one of my favorite podcasts, the Skinny Confidential. It’s a timer that can be set for 5, 10, 20, or 25-minute intervals, allowing you to schedule your day and stay on track. Meditate for 5 minutes each morning, dive into some intentional Deep Work, or commit to reading for an hour each day. Timing yourself makes everything easier, especially for tasks that aren't that fun. What earthly task can you not do for 5 minutes? You could probably use a kitchen timer or the clock app on your phone, but the Miracle Cube is cute, portable, and completely not distracting (unlike your phone). Plus, it’s only $25.00 and available on Amazon Prime.