Take back control of your time.

Notifications, emails, skype calls, meetings, status updates, phones buzzing, coworkers tapping on your shoulder… it’s hard to stay focused at work. Seven tips to get the most out of your day.

Huh, looks like this is a proper Medium post, with life advice and all. I’m sure you’ve read a couple of these posts already, but maybe you’re like me and never actually changed anything to control the onslaught of distractions inherent in working in tech. With so many gadgets, services and coworkers constantly fighting for your attention, I find it increasingly hard to just do some coding, writing or thinking in the office. Unplugging completely is not an option, but there are small changes one can make across the day, to take back control. We’ve had this discussion internally at diesdas.digital and these are our observations and conclusions.


1. It’s not cool to be busy; it’s cool to get work done.

I sometimes fall into this trap myself: Just by being busy, it feels like I’m achieving something. Obviously that’s bullshit, so at the end of each day I try to recap what I actually produced, to focus on results, not the hustling.

2. Fixed time slots for meetings.

A 1-hour meeting at 10:30am can destroy half a day of productivity: Not enough time to start serious tasks before, not enough time between meeting and lunch to do anything relevant, and suddenly it’s 2pm. That’s why we’ve established fixed time slots for meetings: either it’s going down as the first thing in the morning, immediately after lunch or it’s the very last thing happening. That way we ensure to have a couple of hours of uninterrupted work time each day.

3. Switch off email.

This is a no-brainer, but so few people actually do it. Instead, that little red number popping up in the macOS dock constantly catches my attention and suddenly I find myself reading some newsletter or answering a question that wasn’t even urgent. E-mail was designed to be asynchronous and people don’t expect immediate replies. So press CMD+Q already, your mind will thank you later.

4. Headphones.

  1. Rule: When people wear headphones it means they’re in the zone, so don’t disturb them. Most stuff isn’t that urgent. Don’t be this person, save your question for later.
  2. Open-space offices have their advantages, but they frequently get really noisy. Of course we could demand a culture change, but most of us have to simply deal with the fact that the office is no library. So get yourself a good pair of headphones; active noise cancellation making all the difference. Recommended and used heavily in our office: Sony’s MDR-1000x and Bose’s QC35.

5. Protect your calendar.

Calendars are weird … their default emptiness invite everyone to add meetings, to fill the void—as if an empty calendar meant there was nothing to do. Quite the opposite though, that’s the time when I get work done. Unfortunately this is a mindset-issue and people are hard to change, so I started adding my regular work slots to my calendar, e.g. indicating that I’m busy with project XYZ the whole morning. Otherwise somebody will inevitably play calendar tetris and add a meeting to that open time slot. Related: Basecamp noticed the same and does not have shared calendars.

6. More gadgets aren’t helping.

I’ve had an Apple Watch on my wrist for almost two years now and at first I liked having this little window into my phone, because it created an awareness for what’s happening without having to pull out the phone every time. A quick glimpse, alright, done. However, the longer I live with it, the more annoying I find the notifications buzzing on my wrist. Stand up now! Breath now! Here’s a million Slack notifications coming in at once, buzzing for 2 mins straight on my wrist. Now the battery is at 10%! Wait, here’s your activity summary! Go to bed now! Point being: I feel even more enslaved by the information overload, which is why I’m considering to ditch the smartwatch. I never use the apps anyways, the last thing I need is even more notifications and it makes me distracted and tense.

7. Miscellaneous.

  1. It matters what you eat. As much as I crave Kreuzburger everyday, I’m simply not productive after killing a heavy burger. Eating lighter things makes it much easier to resume tasks after lunch.
  2. Slack allows you to snooze notifications temporarily, resetting itself to the default settings after that time and telling you what you missed. Super handy.
  3. Consider giving Calm Technology a read. As the creators of tools people use, we all need to be more aware of how much noise we add to our users’ lives.

Alright, that’s our shortlist. Anything to add? We’d be happy to hear how you deal with this situation at your company. Please share! 🙃

One more thing, since you’re already here!

How about a quick look at our office and the fine people inside? We are a Berlin-based studio called diesdas.digital, with nine people working on internet stuff. Design, development, strategy, the usual deal. Some impressions from last week:

Preparing a presentation can be fun.
On a trip to Zurich.
Almost didn’t make it to the gate in time. 😅
Lars admiring a fine piece of Swiss design at Zurich airport. 🙃
MOAR SCREENS + a quick discussion in the kitchen.
Reunion with one of our favorite clients: Nils and Jakob aka. TypeMates!
Workshop with the good folks of häberlein & mauerer.
No blog post shall be complete without Pino making an appearance! 🐶

Off you go, get stuff done!

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Best wishes for a calm week and see you around!

diesdas.digital is a nimble branding and product development studio in Berlin, featuring a multidisciplinary team of nine designers, developers and strategists, each with years of experience in branding, interaction design and programming. We create tailor-made digital solutions with an agile mindset and a smile on our faces. You can hire us — let’s work together 🙌

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