Managing Distractions

February 24, 2010

I’ve recently started to practice the pomodoro technique.  Holy F!  This super simple practice has uncovered how much time I completely waste in a workday (not to mention my non-work time).

I feel like I’m cheating myself and my customer (read employer), so I’m going to do something about it.  I’ve never read much of Covey, but @shanselman mentioned Covey’s quadrants (see a mind-map version below) in this video I watched the other day.  For me, living only in quadrants 1 & 2 (the top two) is all good, but there are times when I basically want to just ‘check out’ and be a bum (Office Space style).  My goal is to be intentional and choose when I’m doing that, rather than just letting it happen.

Baby Steps

The pomodoro technique is a great start to help manage and become aware, but I need some help.  Here’s what I set up for myself at this point:

  • Pomodo7o with Growl Plugin
  • Growl using the Visor notification (I don’t like toast, so this is great for me)
  • VirtuaWin (for Windows, this is built into most other OS’s, e.g. Spaces on OSX)
  • Throw ALL distracting things to a second VirtuaWin workspace. – Gmail
  • GReader
  • Twitter (turn off twitter notifications)
  • Outlook (turn off new mail toast and new mail tray indicator)
  • Evernote (turn off any messages)
  • Windows Live Writer
  • Time tracking applications
  • Anything else that dings/hoots/toasts or otherwise distracts you
  • Only check email (Gmail **and **Outlook) during pomodoro breaks or other scheduled times
  • Only check twitter during pomodoro breaks or other scheduled times (I’ve started only checking twitter before I start work, and right before I head home).
  • Hook Outlook into Growl so I don’t miss meetings
  • Keep a text file or post-it note ready to capture interruptions.  Most interruptions can be logged, and then dealt with in a subsequent pomodoro.

I only allow myself to go over to my other desktop during a pomodoro break.  This makes it really easy to know when I’m going off task.  It also makes it REALLY hard to find something wasteful to do.  There isn’t anything in my “workspace” that is wasteful anymore, so if I do ANYTHING in there, it’ll probably be productive.

Feeling Too Disconnected?

I’ve got the shakes!  Doing this thing cold turkey is hella hard.  So here’s a patch to wean you off.

Download Trowl and hook up @’s and DM’s (and select other folks you might need to hear from throughout the day).  Now those tweets will be Growled at you.  I don’t get @’ed or DM’ed too often, so it’s not terribly distracting, but has high reward in helping to reduce the withdrawal symptoms.

I’m just starting, so this is my first attempt really.  How do you manage?