Here’s my system for engineering an incredibly productive distraction-free work block from when you wake up to 12:30pm. Although I don’t follow this routine all of the time, when I do I’ve hugely increased my ability to cut through the urgent and ensure that most important tasks for the day get completed.
- Download Focus App. Setup a weekly schedule to block all distractions from 4:30am to 12:30pm on all weekdays. If you want to impress your friends, block all distractions everyday. In addition to the stock list of websites, here are some applications I block:
- Mail. If you use the gmail web interface, download MailPlane so you can easily block it. If you need to send an email during your distraction-free time block, just open up the browser.
- Messages. I hate text messages even more than email. There are no open standards, which means there is no tooling (or innovation!) around separating context and managing distraction. I’ve resorted to blocking the entire app and scheduling a recurring task (via ToDoist) to batch respond to messages. This doesn’t work completely: I still need to respond to some people in real-time. Still not happy with this piece of the puzzle: I would love an app that whitelisted specific contacts as important and provided a distraction free interface to respond.
- The exception: Slack. I keep Slack open although it could be a huge distraction. Too much business-critical communication happens here.
- Most routers allow you to setup internet access schedules for specific devices on your network. I’ve blocked wifi on my phone from 8pm-12:30pm. This adds a little bit of friction to using my phone.
- Put your phone on the other side of the room, or in a place where you can’t touch it. This adds additional friction to checking your messages/notifications, even when your phone is on “Do Not Disturb” mode.
- Setup parental controls on your iPhone: block all social networks or distracting news sites.
- Setup a “Do Not Disturb” schedule on your phone from 8pm-12:30pm.
- Here’s a quick solution to the “I need to be available in case someone really needs to get ahold of me!” problem. Create a group in the Apple address book with a list of people who you need to be responsive to (for family, personal, or business reasons). Then, whitelist this group in your “Do Not Disturb” settings.
- However, the above trick only whitelists calls, not texts. I’ve slowly been communicating that phone and slack are the best channels to grab me. If it’s not important enough to call, or if you are not in a Slack group that I monitor, then it can’t be urgent enough to break my morning concentration time.
- Setup RescueTime to track your time usage. This gives me weekly metrics to guide me to areas of improvement.
- Move the mail app on your phone to the last screen. This makes checking email on your phone a deliberate choice instead of a impulsive action.
- Disable all notifications on your phone. Anything that you don’t need to know about right then should be sent to email where it can be handled in batches. Here are some notifications which I’ve disabled: Facebook Messenger, Twitter, email, LinkedIn, DropBox. iMessage and Calendar are the only notifications which I allow on my phone.
Let me know what you think: I’d love to hear any critique or tips you’ve found to be effective.