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4 Tips to Keep Technology from Killing Your Productivity

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Jen McKenzie
Jennifer McKenzie is a freelance writer from New York, NY. She is fascinated by all things having to do with business, education and tech.
The advancement in technology has been a great source of betterment and empowerment for the human race, Nevertheless, this is not to say that technology doesn’t have any problems. We are bombarded with constant distractions, whether as an overload of information or ads vying for our attention.
During the past century, technology has advanced far more than it ever has during any other previous time in history. What’s more, it is estimated that all the technological advancements you will be enjoying 50 years from now will have spawned during those 50 years. Undeniably, this advancement in technology has been a great source of betterment and empowerment for the human race: people have longer life spans than any of their ancestors could have ever dreamed of, communication between people is no longer bounded by boundaries and borders, and harnessing the energy of the sun is within everybody’s grasp. 

Nevertheless, this is not to say that technology doesn’t have any problems that come along with it. Because of technology, you are bombarded with constant distractions, whether it comes in the form of an overload of information or an advertisement vying for our attention. Furthermore, if you already have a problem focusing, these distractions are detrimental to your productivity.
 
You might beg to differ and say that there is no way that quickly glimpsing at your phone to check your Facebook can cause any serious damage. However, Facebook is not the only culprit responsible for draining your precious time: there is social media, e-mail, online dating, online shopping, YouTube and other digital content media, eBooks, and online stock markets.
 
Apart from the fact that each one of those little time suckers leech your time, you need to bear in mind that all the lost time tends to accumulate, painting a very different picture at the end of your work week. As a result, what might have seemed as a two-minute digression from your normal workday will end up being part of a hefty chunk of your time. Therefore, it is important to figure out ways to curb the possible damage these time wasters can inflict on your productivity. 

So, without further ado, let’s talk about ways we can face these drains on our productivity.


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1. E-mails, messages, and notifications


Of all the distractions you might encounter during your day, your e-mail is probably the biggest drain of your time. Naturally, you might think that your e-mail is necessary for your work, yet that doesn’t stop it from being a time leech. One way your e-mail wastes your time is through the constant barrage of notifications that keep chipping away at your concentration.
 
Also, your need to consistently check your e-mail in case of “emergencies” isn’t doing anyone any favors. Over and above, a lot of the e-mails you receive are either advertisements of some sort or notifications that do not require your immediate attention. Plus, any e-mail you write to an unfruitful lead or to an employee who asks you a question they could have figured out for themselves is still a waste of time, regardless of any objections you might voice. So, here are a few ideas that might help:
 
  • If you can afford to turn off your notifications, then do it and don’t think twice about it. Unless your entire job revolves around responding to e-mails, focus on the tough parts first and make some time for responding to your e-mails later through the day. In order for you to do this, you need to appreciate that most of what people call “emergencies” are rarely that; people have a tendency to sensationalize issues. The world will not end if you respond to an e-mail at 4 o’clock in the afternoon instead of 9 o’clock in the morning.
 
  • Have set times during the day when you check on your e-mails and messages. You could, for example, check your e-mails at 12 o’clock at noon and 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Beyond those times, you’d do well to ignore your e-mail account altogether. 
 
  • This goes without saying but here it goes: silence your smartphone. While working, you should not be distracted by the outside world, specifically if it isn’t work related. Have a private number that you only give to family and close friends, with the explicit instructions that they call you in the event of an emergency (bearing in mind that your family members and friends are clear on what constitutes an emergency). As for work phone calls, try to limit them as much as possible, and be clear that you prefer e-mails as a form of interactions. However, if it is unavoidable that you take a call, try to be succinct and to the point, don’t waste your time chitchatting about irrelevancies. And don’t be afraid of hurting other people’s feelings; this is business, and people should respect the sanctity of your time.
 
  • Another way of managing the time you spend on your e-mail is to prioritize. Prioritize to whom you send e-mails, prioritize from whom you receive e-mails, and prioritize the topics about which you receive e-mails:
 
It might be difficult to distinguish a good lead from a bad lead, but for the sake of efficiency you need to know how to do that. You might not be able to do that right away, yet, with time, you can always tell who’s an easy to work with client from who’s a pain in the neck. You can also learn who’s genuinely interested in whatever you’re selling from who’s just wasting your time. Focus your efforts on the former and ignore the latter.
 
Different people deserve different treatment. Ask yourself the following: do you treat an employee working under you with the same deference with which you treat your employer? Obviously, the answer is no. Therefore, it is fine to create lists and filters and to accord these lists different priorities.
 
If you manage a group of employees, empower them. If they are confronted with a problem they can solve, then let them do just that. Your employees shouldn’t come back to you with every little problem they encounter. Even if your employees are uncertain about how to fix an issue, so long as the cost of that issue is relatively small, let them figure it out. Otherwise, you will be overloaded with problems, your employees will be slowed down, and your customers will not appreciate the wait.
 
  • If you have to read your e-mails constantly, then the least you can do is learn to speed read. Speed reading is an advanced form of skimming that lets you understand what’s written with much less time wasted on your part.
 
  • A couple of tricks that can help you with managing your e-mail are as follows:
 
Use an e-mail auto-response system that informs anybody who sends you an e-mail that you will not be able to reply till you check your e-mails at the preset times you have already established. In other words, let people know that you only check your emails at 12 and 4 o’clock for example. Moreover, include a phone number that can be used to reach you in case of an emergency. In such a manner, you will not be distracted, while never taking yourself out of the loop.
 
Develop an e-mail structure that helps empower your employees and those working with you. A simple “if… then …” structure can do wonders. For example, when an employee sends you an e-mail, asking for your help with a particular problem, explain a particular solution, and should that solution not work, give him more than one alternative. This structure can help combat any form correspondence that might prove to be time-consuming.
 
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2. Apps and websites


Whereas your e-mail is a distraction because of how important it can be for your work, apps and websites are a source of distraction due to their availability and ease of use; with just a few swipes, you can be surfing the latest online dating site, reading a viral article, or playing some online game. Therefore, the entire battle lies in making these apps and websites a bit more inaccessible:
 
  • When working on your laptop, you should consider going full screen. This will help you keep all unnecessary programs out of sight. The best analogy I can offer is the difference between a tub of ice cream that’s in full display in the middle of your freezer versus that same tub of ice cream being hidden behind other frozen food; the temptation isn’t the same. For writers, you should consider using a program like Q10.
 
  • Just as I advised you to turn off the notifications from your e-mail, the same goes for your apps. Anything your apps have to tell you can definitely wait till the end of the work day. 
 
  • A better alternative to turning off unnecessary notifications is deleting unnecessary apps altogether. Take the time to scroll through your phone right now and I am pretty sure that you’ll come across a heap of apps you haven’t used in the past six months or more.
 
  • If you don’t want to delete any apps, the least you can do is group all similar apps into folders. In such a manner, you can put all apps considered time wasting together, which can help you in cutting those apps off while you’re working.
 
  • Don’t get taken in by the hype generated by new apps. Not every new app is a revelation. It’s entirely fine to be not caught up when it comes to the latest social media trends.
 
  • If using social media is unavoidable in your line of work, then at least use filters and lists. Any news feed that isn’t conducive to what you’re working on should be relegated to a secondary list.
 
  • There are programs and apps out there that can help you monitor how to use your time online. A time tracker such as “RescueTime” can tell you a lot about how you spend your time on work. This information can be instrumental in managing your time as well as learning where most of your time goes. It’s easy to lose track of how much time an activity can consume, so using a time tracker can help you rectify matters.
  • On the other hand, there are also apps and programs that can temporarily block your access to any and all time wasters. Programs such as Anti-Social, LeechBlock, StayFocused, Cold Turkey, and SelfControl all do the same thing: they limit your access to particular programs for a specific amount of time, be it 15 minutes or 8 hours. 
 
  • A more extreme solution is to cut off your internet access. However, this should be only done if your work does not depend on any form of internet connectivity. This severing of the connection could be done in one of two ways:
 
You could physically do it by turning off your router, wi-fi, or any other connecting medium.
 
There are programs, such as Freedom, which turn off your computer’s connection to the internet for a predetermined period of time.
 
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3. Distraction Filled Environments


Since we are already on the topic of distractions, this conversation would not be complete without exploring how to reduce the effects of your surroundings on hindering your productivity. The fact that your environment directly affects your level of your focus and productivity should be enough for you to be very discerning when choosing where you want to set up camp.
 
Traditional office workers are riddled with interruptions: coworkers jumping into their cubicle, unnecessary meetings, constant phone calls, and much more. Conversely, remote workers don’t have it easier: they have to contend with familial distractions, household chores that need to be done, and the ever-looming presence of the T.V. Furthermore, remote workers don’t have a boss within their immediate vicinity to help them maintain discipline.
 
Nevertheless, the number of employees enjoying the benefits of remote working, particularly within the digital sector, is on the rise; the trust and responsibility remote employees bask in are enough to make them more productive than traditional employees. Consequently, to both traditional and remote employees, this is my advice to you:
 
  • If you’re working from home, you’d do well to keep business hours: set certain hours each day when everyone in the household knows that you are working and that you shouldn’t be disturbed. More importantly, you need to religiously uphold these hours. 
 
  • As a remote worker, be careful which coffee shop you work at; some places offer the perfect ambiance to work in, while other places are too hectic to build a coherent thought inside of them. A helpful idea to bear in mind is to steer away from coffee shops during busy times, which usually coincide with lunch hours. 
 
  • Wherever you work, always maintain a clean work space. Unchecked clutter can be very distracting, let alone the amount of time wasted trying to find anything of value in the middle of that mess.
 
  • Another important time management trick is to schedule your day. Set your priorities straight and figure out what activities you’re doing just to feel busy and what activities you’re doing that actually have value. This distinction is integral if you want to make the most of your time. Ask yourself the following question at the beginning of each work day: what’s the one thing that if you were to do it for the entire day, you’d still feel a strong sense of accomplishment?
 
  • If you work in a traditional office setting, make sure that your co-workers don’t encroach on your time. This can be done through several means: you can put on headphones, which are a clear sign that you don’t want to be disturbed. Another alternative is to pretend to be on the phone whenever you see a particularly talkative colleague approaching you.

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4. Take Breaks and Schedule Time for Distractions


Despite having talked considerably about eliminating all time wasters from your life, I feel compelled to point out that no human being can go on forever without taking breaks; it’s not humanly possible. You need to take breaks in order to remain functioning at your best. Otherwise, if you push yourself too hard, you will quickly lose focus, and your creativity will drop. The end result will be a sharp dip in your overall productivity, which defeats the purpose of this entire article. Therefore, the trick isn’t to avoid distractions and breaks but to know when to take them:
 
  • Part of scheduling your work day is scheduling your breaks in advance. Optimally, you should make your breaks coincide with the time you tend to check your messages and e-mails. It’s just more efficient.
 
  • The time it takes you to get out of your focus zone, only to try to get back in it later on, is significant. Thus, an excellent idea is to try to postpone all interruptions till your break period as much as possible. When you’re working on something, stay focused on that thing and only that thing. You’ll finish it quicker.
 
  • Try using the Pomodoro technique; it works wonders for me. I am currently writing this article, while a small Pomodoro timer is lying silently next to me. It helps me keep track of time as well as the amount of effort I invest in any particular activity. It’s simple to use, and, best of all, it can help you arrange your distractions perfectly.
 

Conclusion


Throughout this article, we’ve discussed several ways you can combat distractions while you’re working. We started by addressing three main categories of distractions: e-mails and messages, apps and websites (which include on-line dating websites, online stock markets, etc.), and environment based distractions.
 
Subsequently, we saw that although distractions might temporarily hinder productivity, they are integral to our continued functioning. Hence, we discussed how to schedule your breaks so as not to interrupt your normal work flow. Needless to say, the more technology pervades our lives, the shorter our attention spans will get. Therefore, don’t be too hard on yourself if you find yourself accidentally wasting too much time; you’re only human.
 
Instead of chastising yourself for being lured by the latest app, acknowledge the problem, try to measure it so as to get some sense of how bad it is, try to solve it using advice from this article or something else, and, finally, measure your difference in productivity after instating your new protocols so as to assess the new situation. And don’t forget, we’re all different; just because some can manage their time better than others isn’t the end of the world.
 
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