Staying productive

Conquering distractions

“I’m distracted”. Let’s just begin by accepting the fact that you’re distracted and that it will take some significant effort to rewire your brain for boosting productivity. This self-realization came to me after I holistically analysed my life for the past one year. The stats were not so encouraging. There was a sharp decline in nearly everything that I termed as “productive work”. In addition, I had gained quite a few kilos and my sleep cycle was at its worst. Desperate for a solution, I turned myself to self-help books. A couple of books did help me, and I will mention them later in the post. That said, books can only tell you what to do. Ultimately, you’ve to buckle up and follow the path.

Quicksort for the brain

The algorithm to rewire the brain is simple to state but hard to implement. But it has to be followed for greater good. The core idea is to keep away the distractions during your prime time. Don’t get rid of them. Just reschedule them. It’s somewhat similar to quicksort and effective if followed properly.

  • Identify your least and most productive activities.
  • Consider one activity for deep focus. You cannot multitask while working on this activity. Let’s call it the pivot activity.
  • Pick up a schedule during which you’ll be working on the pivot activity. Everything else goes in the bin. No calls, no social media, no messaging.
  • Arrange all other activities around this pivot activity. You can follow it up with other activities in decreasing order of productivity.

So, that was the theoretical part. Let’s see how I did it.

Taming the social media

This was the biggest distraction that had to be tackled with utmost priority. Deleting my accounts was not the solution. The best way forward was to reschedule and reduce visibility. I pushed my Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and Pinterest apps inside the “Extras” folder on my iPhone. You can also call it the “Forever Ignored” folder. No visibility, no actions. In addition, I also disabled notifications for all these apps. Some rules were established based on the algorithm—

  • Check Facebook, Reddit and Pinterest only after 8 PM.
  • Check Twitter after lunch (15 minutes max) and dinner.
  • Push links to Instapaper for later reading.
  • Access Instapaper and Reeder after 7 PM.

I also disabled badge notifications for Overcast and made a general rule to listen to podcasts only on weekends.

This “taming” turned out to be effective. My productivity score on Rescue Time improved by 23% and I was also not losing on anything. Just simple rescheduling.

Disconnected

I love working on new products. But making something from the ground up requires time, energy and undivided attention. I decided to keep design and development as my pivot activity and allotted the first three hours in the morning to it (6–9 am). And I disconnected myself during this period. This was the period of deep focus. No mails, calls or conversations. Complete isolation. I also substituted Spotify with Brain.fm during this time. Their focus mode is really effective and works much better than listening to country music on Spotify.

These “disconnected hours” proved to be beneficial. I was able to learn a new language(Swift) and ship an app within 3 months. I am still trying to get better at deep focus. Though it’s certainly a step ahead from all the distraction.

During office hours, I kept myself “Away” on Slack for at least 30% of the time. I requested my team-mates to ping me only when something urgent pops up. You might like this TED video on how designers can build better products that allow you to stay focused on work.

Books

I would like to mention three books that clarified my thought process and helped me stay productive in a world of distractions.

Deep Work — Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.
Hack Sleep — You’ll learn: How to naturally boost melatonin production by 266% 
- How to fall asleep faster 
- How to improve memory recall and early morning productivity 
- An exercise to improve focus and tame the “monkey mind” 
- How to optimize energy levels and always feel refreshed 
- Powerful self-hypnosis techniques to fall asleep created by reclusive Central American shamans 
- Self-massage techniques for relaxation and rest practiced by Indonesia’s balyan mapons
Buddha in blue jeans — Poet-philosopher and Zen Priest Tai Sheridan’s ‘Buddha in Blue Jeans’ is an extremely short, simple and straight forward universal guide to the practice of sitting quietly and being yourself, which is the same as being Buddha. Sitting quietly can teach many ways to accept life, meet pain, age gracefully, and die without regret. The book encourages sitting quietly every day.

I’ve been sticking to the “Quicksort brain algorithm” for past couple of months and it’s turning out to be really good. I would love to know about your tips and tricks to stay productive. Let’s share some “productivity” love! :)