The Tunnel — 5 easy steps to boost productivity 🚀

Back in 2010 when I ran a successful blog (vs my own metrics), I pumped out essays in 10 minutes of creative flows. Then, I had months of uninspired phases where I could not produce any essays.

Fast forward 8 years into my current life I remember this because I need the same type of flows for writing these articles to you. But “the flow” is needed in many situations in our work life. Solving complex technical problems, coding on an application with the mental construct in our head, writing academic papers, designing a multi-layered user flow… it all requires uninterrupted concentration. A state of a creative flow. A tunnel of productivity.

We live in a distracted world full of notifications and open office floor plans that break your concentration phases

In our current distracted world we are bombarded by notifications and in open office floor plans we’re always available for colleagues to swing by and say hello or share some important feedback or just gossip with us. In this kind of environment my own uninterrupted periods of concentration fell to an all time low in recent years. Very low.

“Big thinkers” have their own habits to tackle this. Bill Gates locks himself into a house in the woods for 2 weeks per year, J.K. Rowling checked two months into a 5-star hotel to write the last Harry Potter chapters, another Author had a 48 hour deadline for a book and hopped on a flight to Tokyo (business class) only to immediately fly back and do nothing but writing on the plane and others have sound-proof home offices they won’t leave until they’re done. Well — I’m not Bill Gates but I know I had to change something to be able to produce meaningful work with a high quality standard.

When I get asked how I can work on so many different things it shows me that my changes worked

A few months ago I started to change things so I can be more productive during my working sessions while clearing my mind when I enjoy time with friends & family. I don’t want to have a work-related problem in the back of my head all the time when hanging out with my friends.
So here’s what I did:

  1. Turn off notifications
    I turned of all social media notifications on my phone (I got the badges e.g. for Twitter, but no banner/sound). I only see it when I’m on my phones homescreen which is often enough.
  2. Answer messages in batches
    Most of the time I let my Whatsapp, Twitter and Emails stack and answer them in batch. Even if you do this once per hour it’s better than answering immediately.
  3. Facilitate Home Office or similar spaces
    A home office only works here if you use it that way. No TV, no screaming kids, no cute cats while in the tunnel. If your home is not the right place, maybe a park is? Or a café? It sounds weird but as I’m traveling a lot I discovered I get A LOT done on Airports — simply because no one disturbs me.
  4. Preparing for the tunnel
    When I decide to tackle one or multiple tasks, I turn my phone screen-down, put my mac into “do not disturb” mode, put on headphones with passive music and if I get approached by a co-worker I politely ask to come back at me in 2 hours / tomorrow. I close off all apps that might disturb me on my mac (Slack, Mattermost, Outlook, Whatsapp…). If I need my browser, I close all other tabs like Github or Twitter.
  5. Dedicate time for the outside world
    Have you ever dreamed of the solution to a problem you had during the day? Like a solution to a bug that you have been stuck on for 5 hours but the next day you solved it in 2 minutes? That happens when you let your brain rest and stop actively thinking about your problem or work.
    When you end your work day: end it. Really ending it.
    No quick mail check in bed, no last peek at the statistics, nothing. Let your conscious brain rest, so your unconscious brain can solve and work on the input of the day. In turn, you’re also MUCH more productive the next day.
    Seriously, this one is a game changer.

These things combined helped me so much in rapidly producing quality work and still enjoying my life outside of it. It’s like high intensity work — you don’t even need that much time (depending on the task). The difference is that it’s much more concentrated, productive and effective.

Try it for a week — I would love to hear your feedback via the comments or on Twitter.

All the best,
Sumit


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