Imagine your mind like your desk. Every morning it's empty. (Usually) You wake up you load it up with all sorts of crap to entertain yourself, social media, Reddit, hacker news etc, etc.
By the time you get to work, there is no place to put work stuff on that desk. You try to put work stuff on it, but pretty much the whole desk is filled with Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook shit. So even if you make some space for the work stuff, sooner or later you focus on Tumblr again. Work stuff gets pushed out.
Generally in my case, by 2PM I manage to clear out all the distracting stuff and get focused.
The solution was this: BORE YOURSELF at every available opportunity.
When I start my morning, I refused to pick up my phone and check out social media (usually I would take a 45 minute dump just catching up on stuff posted last night). Sure my morning chores became a bit boring, but I also became more efficient (I started getting to work sooner).
Basically, by the time I get to my desk, I am so bored that the most interesting thing I can do is work. And my work (programming) is a very interesting task, it used to keep me engaged for hours and hours, it's just that Social Media defeated it.
I do check social media. I check it around 2PM after my standup. That 'impulsive' desire to constantly check it is gone. I catch up on all the social media in the evening or at night (but it doesn't create that compulsive pattern anymore.
End result: My productivity has gone up by 5-6 times. I have a performance enhancement story to work on and I managed to fix 6-7 bugs I found during my work, and it turns out that it was a whole team's sprint's work.
For a while, I found myself waking up and spending a good 20-30 minutes in bed just reading news, then I'd open up the laptop and browse HN while eating breakfast, and before you knew it, it was 10:30 and I still haven't left the house. Gotta spring clean again.
I'll try this.
Though personally I've found if I just log out of facebook and my personal email, that helps. I can't open a tab and have rewards in less than 2 seconds. The extra few seconds to type in a password slows me down enough to just close the tab again and get back to work.
It doesn't require that much self-control as you may think. The important part is to control that 'first' desire of looking at your phone or opening up distracting sites.
What I found is that if I can curb that first desire to get distracted, then the rest of everything is super easy. But if I can't curb that first desire (which usually happens on Mondays), then I have to write that day off to non-productivity.
I started this project last November, and coincided with shutting down Facebook notifications (which helped me a lot). Two weeks ago I uninstalled Facebook mobile app and now I only check facebook by logging into the web version.
Yeah, this is always key. If you don't get that initial dopamine hit from the first potato chip, or that first cigarette, it's a lot easier to ignore the urge.
I have tried this 100 times and it eventually falls apart.
You have to make structural changes in your social media consumption.
Facebook and Twitter are the big killers for me. There'll be others for everyone else but the principles remain—delete everyone you can; block the rest.
The best way I've found to do this is to unfollow like crazy.
The best tips I've found so far:
- Only follow friends and family on Facebook—unfollow literally everybody else
- Unfollow 50% of people on Twitter. If there are friends you don't want to offend, mute their tweets.
I still find that I go to Facebook and Twitter regularly, but I stay there for radically less time.
Twitter was difficult because I had this underlying assumption which told me it was useful for work. It isn't. You won't miss it. Trust yourself to find important information when you actually need it.
Do you count radio, music audio books and podcasts as social media / something to stay away from, even during your commute?
I have found podcasts and audio books to be very interesting and draining so I can see those probably need to be eliminated for sure. But for music I'd be very interested in your take. My commute would be quite dry without it (although maybe that's the point haha)
That being said, here are my observations:
a) The days when I work from home, I focus better than the days when I work in the office. I believe the reason behind this is the fact that during WFH days I just make myself coffee and breakfast, and then start working. On WFO days, I have to go through a commute which increases my chances of getting distracted.
b) During my commute, literally anything would trigger 'distractive thoughts' because my mind is so bored. Subway ads would do the same, seeing someone's book would do the same. The difference is, because now my mind is more focused, the distraction would simply be a long chain of thought rather than a pitstop in me hopping around from thought to thought.
c) The fundamental idea why this process works is that you prevent your rain from 'getting excited'. Social Media makes your brain excited, a podcast, or an audiobook or a book is not as 'exciting' as 20 links on reddit /r/funny.
So I believe that theoretically podcast, music, audiobooks should work (though nothing would work as well as doing nothing and getting bored, but as I mentioned, that might be hard), as long as it meets following two criteria:
1. The book, podcast, audiobook you're into is a relatively calm story, if the podcast is about last year's elections, or it's a real page turner novel or music is the latest album you just discovered by your favorite music artist then it might not be as effective.
2. The activity you're doing, should be long enough to last your commute. If you're reading newspaper, then you're reading 15 different stories, with their own dopamine spikes in your mind.
d) Over long period I believe your brain will go through neuroplasticity and become calmer. I have already experienced that. There are some 'other' effects I observe because of this, but my productivity is so high. Not to mention I'm finally working on my dream side project and I stopped procrastinating regarding nearly everything.
I hope this helps.
I'd be very interested in a full write up, not just in the method but also in your results and observations (once your side project is done of course!).
Thanks for the great tips!
But the more important thing is that it worked from the day 1. I rarely see things which work from the first day.