Not impressed.

I hadn’t accomplished anything that day; instead, I was on the edge of my seat, refreshing my Gmail Inbox and browsing 9GAG. I hadn’t left my room except to make chicken fingers. It was not a good day.

I value self-discipline, but creating systems that make it next to impossible to misbehave is more reliable than self-control. - Tim Ferriss, in an interview with The Observer

The only good thing that came out of it — I realized I wanted to minimize that feeling of unproductivity as much as I could in the future. I created a list of what I call “efficiency rules”. Some include:

  • Only check e-mails between 11AM - 12PM, and 3PM - 4PM. 
  • My cell phone stays facedown in my drawer until those previously mentioned intervals as well.
  • No 9GAG or Reddit till 8PM.
  • No Facebook till 6PM.
  • Make a list of 2-3 items that must get done by the end of the day. Try to finish them by noon.

When the rules are there, it’s easier to resist giving in if I’m not feeling like working that day.

I’ve noticed that the days I’m most unproductive are the days that I break these rules. The days that I’m most bored are also the days I don’t abide by them; I lack the concentration to write or build things. So it’s a system that’s there to keep things in check — to make sure that even if I’m bored, I force myself to find something better to do.

37signals has written about the interruption tax. It’s also known as context switching. The evidence is there: being focused means losing less time to getting re-caught up back to where we were. Instead, we can use this time to get more stuff done. It’s kind of difficult when there’s the temptation of Facebook, the active pinging of messages or push notifications, and the urgent calls of e-mails. 

The problem isn’t just with productivity. It’s about focus and awareness. I don’t like what happens on Facebook, where my minifeed seems full of showsman-y activities or accomplishments. This post echoes my sentiments.

So, what happens if you’re not accessible every hour of the day?

Nothing. Nobody dies. You won’t. And now, even better: people won’t always expect you to get back to them ASAP, and you can get some more time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do.

Image by Bitzcelt.

Herbert Lui is exploring the intersection of art and entrepreneurship. You can connect with him on Twitter. He is the author of a free guide to building credibility online.