We live in a world of interruption. And in the past few weeks, I’ve fallen victim to every 21st century vice in existence: Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, personal email, work email, text message, Zoom, Slack. You name it.
Several times a day, every day, I find myself composing an email and then remember a text message someone sent me. Or I’m posting an Instagram video, only to stop thanks to the infamous Slack ping.
I’ve somehow squandered away this newfound freedom by tending to every vibration from Apple’s version of cocaine, a device that, despite all of its magical powers, destroys real productivity. Sure, it helps me pay bills, keep up with friends and check sports scores. But those menial tasks don’t help us accomplish the most creative or labor-intensive tasks facing us each day.
I’m a deadline-driven person. Slap a due date on an assignment and I’ll get it done. But if left open-ended, our natural inclination is to goof off, “checking” email and performing mini-personal errands under the guise of “productivity.”
Yesterday, I hit rock bottom on this front. I stared at my computer for six hours, knowing I had an important project to complete. But with no concrete deadline, I instead did a workout, checked out two books at the library, called a friend and set up meetings. To further avoid the deep thinking required for this project, I scrolled through Instagram and my camera roll for an hour.
I hated myself for it.
That’s why, today, I’m establishing seven new productivity rules. I want to share publicly with all of you so I can hold myself accountable.
1. I will not use my phone in the first 90 minutes of wakefulness
The morning is my most sacred time. I love the peace. It’s where the majority of my personal development is done, and I enjoy the feeling of knowing I’m working on me while the vast majority are counting sheep.
These days, I wake up around 5:15. I immediately pour a cup of coffee, write in my journal, and then spend the next hour writing things related to this web site. I don’t require a phone for any of it. There’s absolutely no reason for me to look at it. A lot of us use phones as an alarm clock, meaning we have to look at our phones to stop the incessant ringing. Instead, I’ll tell my smart speaker when to wake me up. Because with our little distraction devices, one thing leads to another and then 30 minutes later we realize we’ve just watched a string of college life hack videos on TikTok.
So yeah, no phone for me in the morning.
2. I will check my personal email only twice a day
Our inboxes are the ultimate creativity killer. We think we’re being productive by staying on top of the flood of communication coming our way. But in reality, the vast majority of emails sent do not require immediate responses. But we trick ourselves into believing we’re good soldiers by answering quickly.
So, I’m establishing that I’ll check email only twice per day: 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. I’ll use the morning time to perform the tasks requiring the most deep work, the responsibilities we tend to avoid in favor of checking email 50 times a day.
Emergencies don’t happen as often as we think. If it’s truly an emergency, you’re probably not sending an email anyway.
3. I will delete e-mail and Slack from my phone
On top of the previous rule, I’m deleting the email app on my phone altogether. This will inhibit me from looking at it while I’m on the go. If I’m on the light rail headed into Denver, I should be staring out the window daydreaming and admiring the breathtaking scenery, not burying my head in my inbox. Ditto for Slack. If a co-worker needs an immediate response, he/she will call me.
4. I will adhere to a 15-minute time limit on Instagram
Man, I love Instagram. I’m a big fan of the UFC, and I really enjoy all of the mixed martial arts content I get from Instagram.
But, it’s also such a time-waster.
I imposed the 15-minute time limit on the app a few months ago. But, by clicking a few extra buttons, I can blow right past it. This time, once the warning pops up, I’m going to listen to it. No ifs, ands or buts.
5. I will perform the most difficult tasks early in the day
We avoid the day’s most difficult tasks if they’re not immediately pressing. Most of us choose to begin our work days “getting settled” by checking email, reading the news or talking to co-workers.
All of that stuff can wait. If we bog ourselves down with the unnecessary, we’ll look up at the clock and see we’ve wasted three hours not accomplishing a damn thing.
I’m guilty of it. We all are.
So, whatever the day’s toughest task is, we must tackle it first thing in the morning. This is when our mind’s most creative juices are flowing and we must take advantage of it. Let’s face it: our chances of doing any meaningful work beyond lunchtime are slim to none.
6. I will place my phone in another room while performing deep work
Notice a trend?
Get this 3 in. by 5 in. distraction device away from me. Every little interruption removes us from the headspace required to perform the most difficult tasks. By placing it out of sight, I’ll resist the temptation to check it and can therefore focus on the present moment. Every message I receive can wait.
7. I will place my phone in another room while reading
I love reading. But it’s so difficult to absorb the content when the notifications roll in, again distracting us from the task at hand.
So, these are my rules. I will do my best to stick to them. Renowned author and lifestyle design innovator Tim Ferriss, who partly inspired this new set of rules, once said that in this world of multitasking, single tasking is a superpower. It’s counterintuitive, I know. Employers are looking for multitaskers, right? By simultaneously responding to e-mail while on the phone with a client, we’re being more productive, right?
Scientifically speaking, we cannot perform two tasks equally well at the same time. It cannot be done. And once an interruption forces you to deviate from the present task, it takes a certain amount of time to return to the flow state you were in before.
Anyone can try to multitask, but it takes real discipline to focus on one thing at one time.
What rules might you incorporate so that you can be more efficient with your time? Let me know!