20101008

Cutting on Distractions


Hey! Look! A squirrel!
A few weeks ago I realised I was procrastinating too much. I tend to work in cycles, and it looked like my productive cycle was over and my procrastinator half had just kicked in the worse possible moment: lectures had just begun.

It looked like there was no solution. My timeboxing strategies went nowhere, will-do lists (litemind.com) had no real meaning, carrot-and-stick solutions didn't work. Nothing seemed to work at all.

But I knew what it really was. As Steven Pressfield explains in The War of Art, this was resistance. My inner demon fighting against me. I needed to strike back, and strike hard. Living my life was on the line.

The first step is the subject of this post, cutting on distractions, in particular web distractions. Previously I had been using Leechblock (a Firefox addon, see my review of Leechblock) to keep me from browsing for longer than a set time. It worked, but wasn't perfect. Moreover I am using (and loving) Chrome now. This time I decided to act different.

The problem was that my web browser was always open, and it usually had a Gmail tab, a Facebook tab and a twitter tab. Too easy to procrastinate on these. I just don't do this anymore. And this is the key. Sounds easy? It is not.

I am addicted to checking my email and twitter constantly, checking my AdSense account and blog analytics repeatedly during the day. I can easily get a moment off, move from twitter to reddit or Hacker News and then my morning is gone. Wasting my time.

I just gave it up. I force myself to check email or blog statistics only in idle time (compiling, printing, these odd minutes just before going to lunch), and no more.

To keep track of my twitter stream, I use paper.li, a wonderful free web app that turns your timeline into a kind of newspaper, with all links collected for your enjoyment. If I find an interesting but longish post, I add it to Read It Later to read while commuting in my iPod Touch. And at night I check my timeline for written tweets. I also use notifo in my iPod Touch to get a sound alert whenever someone sends me an @berenguel tweet, thus I can answer promptly.

These may sound like trivial solutions, but they are working wonders so far. I am only opening Facebook in the morning and night for just a few minutes, my twitter stream is almost rotting during the day (although I do tweet) and I am being more productive than the previous 2 months.

Of course this works because it has a cumulative effect. First I drew from my willpower to start, then the ball started rolling on its own, and now I just don't feel the urge to have Gmail always on, or check my blog analytics. They are good as they are, and will wait. It is amazing how just a day of giving up on these felt, and since then the feeling is only getting stronger.

Do you have the willpower to start it? The endurance to keep on it? The pay-out is staggering: you will win back your life.

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Written by Ruben Berenguel