Eliminating Distractions

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One of my massive pet peeves as a web developer has always been distractions.  I hate unnecessary distractions, I can't stand being kept away from work, and I loathe waiting on others to get their part done so I can get my tasks done.  Alas, you can never be without distraction, especially on the internet.  I've recently made an effort to eliminate as many distractions as I could -- here are a few of the ways I've done so.

Remove Desktop Notifications

The biggest distraction to me in the past has Google Notifier.  Google Notifier constantly notifies me of personal GMail emails, and as a result, I'm constantly thrust into non-work stuff.  Whether it be family, blog, or spam emails, I can get easily sidetracked for long periods of time, and for large chunks of time.  Removing this temptation has been the single largest boost in productivity for me.

Hide Phone and iPad

It seems like every app wants permission for push notifications these days.  Do 90% of them really need them?  Of course not, but it's good marketing for them and their app gets a little extra attention.  Unfortunately they steal my attention too.  And with the number of apps on my phone, it's easier to simply hide my phone than disable and manage those permissions.  I'll check my phone every few hours, but only for a few moments, and then hide it so I don't have to deal with those annoying buzzes I don't care to deal with.

Hide from Family

Working remotely is awesome but one giant distraction can be family.  Of course office jobs provide the same distractions in the form of people stopping by your cube and useless meetings that last for hours, but home distractions are a bit more emotionally tied.  You feel bad telling your wife that you can't watch your little munchkin for a few minutes, but those few minutes have a 10x impact in a loss focus.

It's really useful to simply leave the house sometimes, whether it be a coffee shop, another family member's house (whose members are at work), or a co-working space.  A few hours of uninterrupted work is sometimes as valuable as a full day's work anywhere else!

Close Email

I have a really hard time doing this, because I always want to know if there's an urgent request, but in extreme circumstances, I'll close my email client without issue.  Sometimes I desperately need to focus and closing Thunderbird is my last line of defense.  Imagine the amount of crap email you get...and how much you'd do to avoid the annoyance of an email notification.

What measures do you go to to avoid frustrating interruptions?  Please share!

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  1. Shane

    Love your article David and I agree with all of them (especially hiding the phone).

    An easy one to circumvent, but I do it anyways to keep myself in check. I just add some social media websites to my hosts file.

    Seems as though every time there’s a spare moment that I’m watching a couple of progress bars I find myself visiting the site to “pass a bit of time”. Before I know it it’s 30+ minutes later and the progress bars have finished for a while now.

  2. Muhammad Bilal

    These are all problem I used to face but now I turned off my notification and install a small app called “SelfControl”. The interesting thing about this app is once you start it for a time you can’t stop it until it completes the time you set it to stop. This make my life easier to work.

  3. Use two separate web browsers for work and private stuff. As long as you don’t have your bookmarks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), remembered passwords and plugins in that first one, you’re not tempted to waste your time.

  4. Pomodoro Technic is very helpfull.

  5. Pretty similar to my setup, I also use Canary for developing and I’m not signed in, so no bookmarks or extensions. Also the Pomodoro technique is great to avoid getting distracted.

  6. I’ve recently started doing something similar but instead of hiding the phone away I put it in ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode for a couple hours in the morning. This way I’m not bothered unless it’s someone on my favorites list actually calling.

  7. The only thing I don’t agree is the email bit. I used to do exactly that, with both personal and work email. However, I found more productive to create a lot of filters for my emails. That way, the only thing that hits my inbox are emails that are end up being really important. Other than that I can receive 50+ emails a day on my work and personal accounts combined, and my inbox will get 1 maybe 2 emails a day.

    I’m not going to lie, that it took me a while to do this, we get so many emails from so many sources that we end up using lot’s of time to achieve this.

    But you know, you have to spend time to make time. :P

  8. I agree with all.

    I work from home, and in the beginning I had a lot of “problems” because I was always going to social websites, and just browsing cool websites, tweeting, talking to people on skype, etc.

    Now, I don’t use any specific technique. But probably Pomodoro is the closest that resembles what i try to do.
    I just stopped with all the browsing… while i’m working.. (difficult at the beginning) and every 2 hours I stop for 10 minutes, just walk a little… browse some cool links from David Walsh :P and play with the dog… then and i go back to work. I try to be very strict with this.

    I don’t think it’s important the technique that you use. Just use it, and be very strict about it. Specially if you get paid by the hour. The best you track time, the best you can give estimates. There are some cool apps that track what app ur using, and you can see where ur loosing ur time.

    PS: For time tracking i use Toggle (https://www.toggl.com/‎) for tracking my work time. It helps.

  9. When I code I tend to put this on my headphones http://simplynoise.com/ or even better this http://rain.simplynoise.com/ and drown out all the distractions. Amazing how white noise or the sound of rain lets you concentrate.

  10. Vic you can listen also to my youtube playlist of Progressive, Chill Out musics. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBl4pp0Sfko&list=PL3zcaERwWS0zYIj9_9pLwMUUMvvFL7F9g

    Sometimes i use them to help me concentrate :D

  11. Mario Gonzales

    Close personal social acounts (twitter, facebook, etc)

  12. First 3 points are effective but not last one for me. Because most of my work depends on mails but you can eliminate this distraction by filtering your important mails in your inbox & all others to advertising labels.

  13. Great article. I would add what works for me:

    Turn off notifications on your phone
    Check email only twice a day

    and if you want to be really hard on yourself (which you should be), install an extension like StayFocusd.

    Warning, this extension can really increase your productivity.

  14. Nice tips, I tried a variety of things and I am still learning, lol.

    I can’t take rap or rock, too heavy and lyrical. I do work best to slow, calming music or quietness. I can’t listen with headphones on, I don’t get anywhere.

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