My answers to the #prodchat about focus and productivity


Every week, Ray Sidney-Smith does a great job running the #prodchat twitter chat about productivity on Wednesdays from 8-9pm EST. Unfortunately I don't always get to participate as often as I would like so as I have done in the past I'm going to go back and answer the questions he posed as my way of contributing a little to the discussion. So without further ado...

Q1: How much time do you estimate distraction currently eats away from your productivity?

Distraction and I are old enemies. I'm a creative thinker which means distraction is often one of the tools I put to use to get my brain going in new directions when problem solving.  With that taken into account though, I'd estimate I still lose anywhere from 25-35% of my productive time to distractions.

Q2: What are some regular distractions you face, and how do you overcome them?

Distractions can take all forms. Interruptions from others, environmental, lack of focus, loss of interest, and changing prioritization can all break down the productive "flow". Overcoming them is a matter of accepting that distractions happen and creating the supporting parts of my productivity solution to get the mental train back on track as quickly as possible.

Q3: How do you schedule your time so you can avoid distractions?

I only have one fixed period of time I schedule each day. I slot from 8-9am each day as my personal "strategy session" giving me a change to set the objectives and mindset for the day ahead. It's not time to check things off the task list but rather the time that makes the work possible through the rest of the day.  Having this time is critical to me and the days I'm not able to have this session feel like they're behind the eight ball before they even start.

Q4: How do you use self-tracking to reflect and limit future distractions? What tools do you use?

My primary tool for self tracking is Todoist.  I've fallen for this application over the past several months after a few false starts in the past.  The open structure, natural language capture, and karma gamification all help me keep on task or at least get back to center when I need to.

Q5: Are there places you find yourself more, or less, distracted? How do you design your workspace to limit distraction?

Headphones at the client sites are a must to close out extraneous conversations. I also count on my smartwatch to keep me from picking up my phone at every beep and buzz of incoming notifications. When possible, I like to head to a coffee shop, grab a table and a latte, and work on truly creative tasks or purely administrative ones. As for workplace design, I'm a bit of a digital nomad so I work wherever I am, whenever I can.

Q6: How do visual distractions affect your productivity? How do you combat it?

I'm not too bad at dealing with visual distractions, though honestly the one repeating issue I have is working with the TV on in the background.  Many people can do this effectively however I tend to catch myself peeking at the screen more often than I should.  My battle plan? Turn off the TV and listen to podcasts.

Q7: How do deal with ambient noise and other sound-based distractions?

Back to headphones here. Whether it's podcasts or music, filtering out ambient noise with content I'm either interested in or familiar enough with that it blends into the background works for me.

Q8: Have you tried mindfulness exercises (such as meditation) to increase your focus? Experiences?

I've not tried mindfulness exercises but did quite a bit of practicing biofeedback in my younger days so I'm comfortable reaching a calm, focused mindset through thought and relaxation. It's not for everyone, but it can be an excellent way to add that mental tool to your toolbox.

Q9: What happens when other people (coworkers, family and children, etc.) are the distractions?

Where's my latte?

Q10: What will you do in the next week to focus more to get more done?

I'll be continuing my use of Todoist to stay focused on multiple engagements as well as personal efforts. OneNote, wearable technology, and an acceptance of managing focus as part of being productive will continue to keep me moving forward.

Here's looking forward to the next #prodchat...

If you're interested in reading more about my thoughts on productivity I'd recommend:

Success is about Being Productive

Using Todoist to get a busy week under control

Living hack free is hard

How a smartwatch made me more productive