In my quest to be more efficient, I found that I lose most of my productivity and focus in letting others steal my time. This way to do things is considered as normal or even productive when it is just a way to transform us into robots who deal with pushes, alerts and notifications. This is the push generation.
In the push generation world you get hundreds of notifications every day, your phone is ringing, blinking, virbrating all the time, you get little boxes opening in all corners of our screens and you are constantly connected and available for everybody, but you are never available for yourself. Does it feel familiar?
I went to a conference the other day and one of the speaker was promoting this way of working. This guy describes himself as a creative but all he is doing really is making what others are asking him to do... all the time. That means he answers emails, tweets, phone calls on weekends, vacations, at 5 am, at 1pm at 11pm. And it feels great for him because he has this feeling of being busy. And also this is “new technology so it must mean that it’s efficient, right?” I understand this feeling: I used to work like this and I thought it was awesome except I didn’t get much done really. I actually spent several years doing a project that should have taken a month or two because I let people interrupt me literally all the time. I don’t know… this doesn’t sound like focused or creative work to me but rather like being a puppet.
Turn off all notifications
I’ve turned off all notifications on my Iphone earlier this week. Because I can easily spend 5 minutes navigating without any real purpose on my iphone when I get a notification that someone liked one of my Instagram pictures.
[Actually it’s not really true, I kept the notifications from only one app: Re.Minder (ugly app but it works well) because I program the really important stuff I have to do every day in this app]
As I write this my phone is in the kitchen at he other side of the appartment. It’s turned off. This way I’m pretty sure I won’t be bothered by someone calling me. I find people are more focused when they have to leave a message anyway. They go straight to the point.
Also my email client is closed. And I have blocked email domains (gmail, etc…) with SelfControl. Self Control also blocks Twitter, Facebook, Reddit (etc…) for an amount of time that I predefined. In this case: 2 hours. I know that I can be weak and open by Facebook news feed several times an hour if I don’t pay attention (really!).
You can totally explain this strategy to your friends, your colleagues, your clients… They generally accept it without any question. Actually they often respect you for being organized and straight with them.
Now, read your emails at least once a day (on work days), consult your answering machine too. A few years ago, I had a colleague who tried to apply read his emails only once a day because he didn’t want to be interrupted. Good idea except he actually processed maybe 3 or 4 random emails every day and let the other ones unread… After a while he had several thousand unread emails in his inbox (I puked a little in my mouth when I saw his inbox one day). It was really bad and nobody really trusted him or his method.
Talking about urgency…
When you start to master your own time, you realize that most urgent problems are really not that urgent. And it’s really frustrating when you consider them as important and realize then that you could have done something that mattered instead of letting someone interrupt you. We have been trained to answer to stimuli as urgent life-or-death signals. Just watch the reaction of people when their phone rings, their facials expressions, how they move… You can have a really important discussion with someone and they will stop listening to you to say hi to their Mom who randomly called in the middle of the day (or worse because one of their friends from college posted a cute picture of their new cat on Facebook). And they act like they had absolutely no choice. When that happen, I leave. I start something else. And also I lose a lot of confidence in this person I was talking with.
My suggestion is to ignore the “pushes” and notifications you get. You don’t really need them. Keep the ones you really need (if you think you really need Facebook notifications, think again). And also organize your email account so that most mails get processed automatically with rules (it’s not rocket science), you will only have to process important messages and you will save hours.
And finally: you know what is important. I know you do, so focus on that.