Y U No Tell me: Distractions

This is the ninth post in a series called Y U No Tell me; Lessons learned from building a WordPress development business. For a list of all posts in the series, please start here.

Let's do a couple quick math problems together.

5 + 1 = 6. I think we both agree on that.

How about 3 x 3? 9, right? Simple.

7 – 4. Obviously 3 is the answer.

OK, for this last one, I'm going to change it up a little bit.

How many 2 hour tasks can you get done in an 8 hour day?

You didn't say 4, did you? Of course you didn't. You're far to smart for that. The actual answer is unique to all of us. For me, that answer is somewhere around 2.7.

Why is that?

Well, if you're like me, after you finish the task you need to update the task in your project management tool, email the client about the change, check your email, Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Reddit, icanhascheezeburger and then check the email again. And that doesn't even take in to account that you were probably wrong when you estimated the task at 2 hours to begin with.

We are a distracted society. Our gadgets beep and buzz at us constantly. Our desktop notifications steal our attention, even if only for a second, and break our flow. Working all day on the internet is no help either with it's endless memes and this resurgence of the animated GIF that is clearly the work of somebody who absolutely hates productivity!

I have joked in the past that I am a self-diagnosed sufferer of ADD. But I don't think that's the issue at all. I have the discipline to work at home and not get distracted by TV or video games, but I'll blow through 30 minutes checking stats, checking email, social sites and every other distraction the internet has in store. Often in the middle of doing some other task (like writing this post, I've checked my email 3 times already).

The trouble with distraction

In yesterday's post I talked about how estimates suck. Estimating isn't just about cost, it's also about time and scheduling. You might have thought that you were going to get all 4 of those 2 hour tasks done today, but instead got derailed by a fascinating Facebook thread with hundreds of comments. Or you went and looked up an article on Wikipedia and lost the next 45 minutes to a Wiki-crawl that landed you on an article describing the migrating habits of the Dung Beetle and you can't recall why you went to Wikipedia in the first place. We've all had it happen.

If when you laid out the schedule for the week you didn't take in to account these intangibles, by Wednesday you're going to be severely behind. You may as well just set aside Wednesday evenings for playing catch-up every week.

Sadly, there is no magic bullet. I can tell you to put your phone on silent and shut off any setting that may cause it to buzz, use tools like Rescue Time to stop yourself from visiting sites that are listed as distractions, turn off those desktop notifications. Yes, all of these things can help, but the most important tool in your fight against distractions is your own determination to ignore them.

For me, that's still a work in progress.

Do you have tools you use to help you fight distractions? Drop a note in the comments below, I'd love to hear about them!

Don't miss tomorrow's post when I'll be talking about how bigger projects aren't always better projects. Oh, and don't forget to sign up to have these posts sent to you by email.

Speaking of email, it's about time I go check my email one more time…

4 Comments

  1. Phil Simon on October 22, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    For me, shutting down e-mail is key. For God’s sake, turn off Hootsuite alerts. Don’t use e-mail for project management or a primary communications tool. For scheduling, youcanbook.me and comparable tools save valuable time.

    Change the equation.

    • John on October 22, 2014 at 8:34 pm

      I 100% agree about email. It’s my nemesis. I see the pop-up that new mail came in and it will stop me in my tracks every time.

  2. Andy Christian on October 22, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    For me, having a “work environment” is key. I’m much more productive working in a library, co-working space, or even outside, than I am working anywhere in my home. Even if I try to set aside an “office” area, my brain thinks “I’m at home; I’m not supposed to work here!”

    A lot of people can get by with a desk in a corner of their living room, so might not have to go to my extreme, but having an area your brain associates with Work, will help to minimize distractions.

    • John on October 22, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      I’ve always been pretty good about avoiding the normal “at home” distractions, but I think having a work area is key for a few reasons. As you point out, it’ll minimize distractions, but also it should be an area that you can get away from. Preferably an office with a door so that you can close the door and separate yourself from work.

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