What Was I Doing Again?

Does my typical day resemble yours? I wake up and immediately check my phone. Here’s what I see:

  • three notifications from Facebook,
  • a message from Google Calendar telling me today my bills are due
  • a notice from Runkeeper to weigh myself
  • a message from OkCupid (ahem, if I am lucky 🙂 )
  • a reminder from Way of Life to fill out my journal
  • a bunch of email notifications, many of which are duplicates of Facebook and other notifications.

After a pee, I settled into my favorite slouched position on the couch. First up: OkCupid. An hour later, I’ve:

  • responded to one internet dating message and sent three openers
  • caught up on the notifications I’ve missed on Facebook
  • written a status update
  • written a greeting on my friend’s page
  • read a couple of emails from lists I’m subscribed to
  • followed links to another few articles (some of which I decided to come back to later, leaving the tabs open in the browser)
  • surfed reddit and Hacker News for a while.

For good measure, I refresh Facebook just to make sure I haven’t missed anything new. Then I realize it’s time to get ready for work. Checking Way of Life, and realize that I didn’t meditate, drink a glass of water, or read a motivational book for 10 minutes. These are habits I’m trying to form, but didn’t get to them today. I also forget to track my weight on RunKeeper.

I’ve gotten nothing done.

One of my goals is to become more of a producer than a  consumer. I got up an hour early to do creative work that would help me fulfill my goal — yet I completely failed.

My work day follows a similar pattern. You can skip ahead if you get the point.

I check email first thing when I arrive, and catch up on any chat messages. Then I attend a mid-morning meeting. In the meeting, I get a notification from Words With Friends that it’s my move. I stop being an active participant in the meeting, and try a few words before playing a move. Then, for good measure, I check Facebook and open up reddit. After the meeting, I check email again, and chat messages. I remember at some point that my bills are due today, and pay those.

Some time in the afternoon, the fear of a deadline forces me to carve out an hour of focus. I get enough work done to be able to report something positive in our daily standup. However, one of my goals is to be amazing at my job – I’m failing at my goal.

My day is a whirlwind of notifications, alerts, emails, and mindless internet surfing. Is that supposed to be satisfying?

I’ve decided to stop being distracted. Here are the changes I’m making:

For my phone:

  • Don’t sleep with my phone in the bedroom, and make sure it is on silent.
  • Turn off all Facebook, Meetup, email, and game alerts and badges on my phone. For now, chat messages (SMS, Facebook, GroupMe, and Google Hangouts) come through, because those are actual direct communication. This is ongoing, as I discover that Netflix, Fandango, etc also give me unneeded alerts and badges.
  • Don’t allow Way of Life to leave a banner notification on my phone’s lock screen. For now, the badge is okay, because it’s a reminder to work on my habits.
  • Change my phone to black and white (in iOS: Settings -> General -> Accessability) for reduced visual stimulus
  • Remove all time sucking apps from my phone’s home screen. For me, this means Evernote, Way of Life, iSmoothRun, and Jefit are on my home page. If I want to read reddit or go to my email, I have to swipe over and enter a folder.

For my computer:

  • Subscribe to Unroll.Me and send it all non-essential emails. Now, sale emails from REI, messages from Facebook, new Meetup groups, and emails from blog subscriptions are all shunted into a page that I can look at once a day. I’m ruthless – if this email isn’t urgent and important, I add it to Unroll.Me.
  • Block Facebook, reddit, and Hacker News on my computer until 8am. For now – maybe later I’ll move it to noon. I use WasteNoTime for this, but there are several tools available.
  • Turn off Facebook notifications from showing up on my screen. You can do this on a Mac by going to Apple Menu -> System Preferences -> Notifications
  • Install a browser tab limiting extension. I set it to something small, so that I can still keep my working tabs open, but not large enough that I can keep open tabs that I mean to read later. I use Controlled Multi-tab Browsing. If I find myself with an article that I can’t read now, I throw it in Readability or Pocket for later. I’ve heard some people advocate a one open tab policy, which seems too restrictive to me; my problem is drowning in a sea of open tabs, and finding myself lost trying to resolve them.

For my life:

  • To increase focus, work using the Pomodoro technique. That is, work in 25 minute chunks, and take 5 minute breaks in between. That way, when I feel the need to grab a snack or visit the restroom, I can remember that I’ve only got a few minutes left in my Pomodoro, and finish it before taking a break.
  • I’m hacking my habits. So, instead of checking my phone first thing in the morning and getting sucked into a vortex of distraction, I’ll immediately brush my teeth and make my bed. Then I’m a little more awake. I can also put my computer on my desk rather than the couch, which is more conducive to me being in the mindset of being productive when I sit down.
  • Add all todo items to Evernote. Your brain has a way of spinning on todos, distracting your from your focus, and if you write them down your brain will stop trying to get you to remember them.

What else can I do?

  • Use something similar to the Pomodoro technique for paying attention in meetings. If removing distractions isn’t enough and I daydream, I can start paying attention for three minutes before taking a one minute break.
  • Use Adblock Plus to remove ads on the internet
  • Work in full-screen mode
  • Since I have never checked Pocket, be a little braver with closing tabs that I don’t have time to read right now.
  • Work on a daily mindfulness meditation practice. Mindfulness allows you to put a little space between your thoughts and your actions, giving you some space to think and make a choice.

Distractions destroy your focus. They use up your decision making resources, leaving you with less willpower to fulfill your tough goals. When your day is run by distractions, it’s easy to realize that you have wasted a whole lot of time.


What strategies do you use to help you remain focused?

Update 3/2/2015:

I woke up this morning and checked my phone. No notifications!


One thought on “What Was I Doing Again?

  1. i understand this busyness!
    my phone is not smart
    and i have no facebook friends
    so i can go out
    with ease
    and not be concerned
    about anything but
    my peaceful breathing 🙂


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