The opportunity to work from home on your own time and for yourself is easily one of the greatest benefits to being an Internet entrepreneur, even if you haven’t quite reached “dot com mogul” status just yet. At the same time, this blessing can also be a double-edged sword because home life can be rife with distractions and it can be hard to hunker down and do the work that needs to be done.
It’s not about the number of hours that you put in. That’s the old mindset. It’s about figuring out how you can be the most productive during the hours that you do work so that you can choose to work fewer hours and still make more money. One way to boost your productivity, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, is to establish an end of work day routine. But what else can you do to accomplish more and get distracted less?
1. Close That Email Tab
I’m very much guilty of this. I have this nasty habit of opening up Gmail the moment my computer turns on and then that Gmail tab doesn’t close until I shut down the computer at the end of the night. Some people are perfectly comfortable with having thousands of unread messages, but that’s not me.
Seeing “Inbox (1)” out of the corner of my eye gives me incredible anxiety, so much so that I feel compelled to see what it is right away. Even with Gmail’s great filtering system, the messages that land in the “Primary” tab are usually things that can be safely ignored for at least a few hours.
Instead, what you should be doing (as should I) is to schedule your email time. Check it once early in the day and once again some time in the afternoon. Outside of these times, keep that tab closed if you want to stay on task.
2. Turn Off the Music
In the early part of my freelance writing career, at least for the first couple of years, I had the habit of playing music or leaving the TV on in the background. I liked having that background noise, even if I wasn’t really paying attention to what was happening. But even so, the music or TV was ultimately a distraction.
I might be the middle of writing a blog post, for example, when a song catches my ear. I pause from my writing and start tapping my feet to the beat of the tune. Or maybe I overhear something on the TV and I look away from my computer monitor to catch a few minutes of daytime television. That’s a distraction.
It may take you some time to learn how to work in more silence and isolation, but depending on the work that you do, you may find that you can concentrate better and be more productive. Some exceptions might be if you’re going through a batch of photo edits or other types of work where “words” aren’t really involved.
3. Change Your Notification Settings
Did you know that the original intent of smartphone notifications was so that you would check your phone less? That was the idea behind push email on the original BlackBerry. By getting notifications for when new messages came in, you’d be less compelled to check your phone periodically and refresh the inbox. It made sense.
These days, notifications can be an incredible drain on your attention and productivity. This is especially true because so many notifications are being generated by the apps and not because you’re actually receiving a real message from another human being. When someone “likes” your comment on Facebook, you don’t need to see that right away.
To maintain your concentration while at work, it may be a good idea to alter the notification settings on your phone such that only those that concern another actual human being — like getting a message from a friend on WhatsApp — are ones that come through. If you’re not ready to take it to that level, you can always enable the “do not disturb” mode temporarily.
4. Read It Later
When you make your living on the Internet, you necessarily need to stay connected to the Internet to do you work. That just makes sense. But the Internet is also rife with all sorts of distractions and possible rabbit holes. While researching one topic, you might come across an interesting, but unrelated article on another topic.
Instead of allowing yourself to meander down a never-ending string of tangential web searches and recommended articles, save them for later. This way, you can come back to them during your leisure time and enjoy them properly. I like using Pocket, which is free to use (unless you upgrade to a premium account) and you can easily log in with your existing Google or Firefox account.
5. Take Real Breaks
A strategy that I’ve been utilizing for the last few years is called the Pomodoro technique. The idea is that you have these focused work sessions of about 25 minutes, followed by five-minute breaks where you can get up, stretch, or allow yourself to indulge in a YouTube video. It’s up to you.
These five-minute breaks on their own don’t mean a heck of a lot, but after you’ve completed a few Pomodoro sessions in a row, you can treat yourself to a longer break. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes. During that time, it is imperative that you take an actual break. Physically get up from your computer and walk around. Move your body. Get that blood flowing again. Do not be tempted to dive into another backlit display.
These real breaks allow you to recharge and re-energize, but what you were working on will continue to simmer in the back of your mind. When the break is over, you can return with fresh perspective and renewed vigor. The same is true for even longer breaks when you might decide to go for a walk around the block or out for a nice lunch with a friend. Your mind and body need these kinds of breaks and, again, as counter-intuitive as they may sound, these breaks will boost your productivity overall if you utilize them correctly.