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Dealing with distractions

Dealing with distractions

If I had to come up with the biggest issue I have with completing work in my personal time it would be the continuous effort to deal with distractions.

I’m a pretty distractable person.

If you could have seen the length of time I took between typing the previous sentence and this one then you would understand my issue. The problem is that I want to be productive and I feel bad if I haven’t been productive, so when I let myself get distracted (by Facebook, Youtube or Reddit for example) I’m basically investing in the bad feelings that are to follow.

To try and counter my propensity for procrastination I’ve decided to tackle it from a few sides.

  1. Planning
  2. Control
  3. Incentive

Planning

I function a lot better with a plan. I like to know what is happening on a given day and when I’ll be doing it or I’m a lot less comfortable. When it comes to work I have the habit of planning the bigger picture but not the breakdown.

I’ve been listening to John Sonmez’s audiobook ‘Soft Skills‘ on my commutes to and from work and he outlines his variation on using a kanban board with the pomodoro technique. I am using Trello for my kanban board (using a list for each day of the week, a today list and a done list), and a regular old timer to track pomodoro, but I know there are better tools for this. I like these two techniques for a few reasons:

  • It let’s me plan out my entire week
  • It makes me consider how long jobs will take
  • It forces me to break up bigger tasks into smaller ones.

That last point in particular was very useful to me. The pomodoro technique is just a method to encourage complete focus on one task. You set a timer for 25 minutes and do nothing but the single task you are focusing on (no email, no fake attempt at “multitasking” etc). This 25 minute block is a single pomodoro. After a pomodoro you take a 5 minute break. After 4 pomodoro you take 15 minutes. John’s rule was that if you anticipate something will take longer than 3 pomodoro (about 1 and a half hours including breaks) then you need to break it up into smaller tasks. Smaller tasks are a lot more manageable.

Control

To take back control from the side of my brain that likes to click the time wasting websites I need to not give myself that option, especially as I get used to the system. I’m going to try out ‘StayFocusd‘ for Chrome and ‘StayOnTask‘ for Android to block or discourage wasting time on unproductive websites during a pomodoro. It would be impossible to just unplug the internet and put my phone in another room as developing without Stack Overflow is a terrifying concept that I don’t want to consider, and I find using my phone instead of an emulator is a lot faster when testing apps.

Also, by using the kanban/pomodoro combination I am putting control back into my work by planning what I am going to do and then focusing on it, instead of knowing where I want to be and stumbling blindly towards it.

Incentive

I struggle with incentive because I struggle with distraction. If I work hard I need to ensure I rest, but if I don’t feel like I have gotten enough done (perhaps due to conceding to too many distractions) then I won’t feel like I deserve to do something enjoyable and so I won’t be able to enjoy it. By planning out my work, and knowing when and for how long I will be working, I can hopefully add incentives back in to my life and start enjoying my downtime.

I’m going to start now. I planned to write a blog post, I have wrote a blog post, so I’m going to close the PC down and spend the rest of the night with my fiancé.