Freelancing Tips and Tricks: Measure your distraction-free time

One of the things that is becoming increasingly harder to do is to have periods of time without distractions. Distractions can come in many forms— some of which appear so innocuous but are still just as destructive for your concentration. They include things like:

  • Any kind of ding on your phone.
    • Even if you can identify the ding as one you can safely ignore, it still temporarily disrupts your thinking and makes your brain process it. Your brain basically goes like this: Hey a ding! Oh yeah, that ding means someone just left a comment on my Facebook post. I can check that later. Sure, that happens in milliseconds, but sometimes that’s all it takes to disrupt your original thinking and make you start over.
  • Any kind of pop-up or fly in or animation on your desktop.
    • You know how Notification Center on your Mac can fly in little notifications in the top right? (If you’re on Windows, you may get a pop-up in the lower right.) Those things immediately catch your eye’s attention, make you read it for a second or two, and then return you to what were doing.

Worse, these things can pull you entirely out of your groove and set you on a super distracted path. Notifications may be just interesting or intriguing enough that you click or swipe into them. Then you find yourself reading an article or two, and then you go back and read other news that has been posted... Before you know it, an hour has flown by and you totally reset any progress you made earlier.

What is there to do about these terrible distractions? Frankly, I struggle with these all the time. There’s no one perfect solution or silver bullet that will take care of these problems. It’s about finding what works best for you— and creating a balance between being notified and not being distracted.

What I’ve found is nice is to actually start to measure your distraction free time. I use our app TimeTag to do that. I create a tag that is simply labeled “Distraction free” and I hit start. As long as I’m focused on what I’m doing, I leave that running. When something steals me away (like I interact with a notification or respond to a message, etc) then I have to stop the timer. When I get back to my work, I re-start it.

By the end of the day, I can see just how much time I actually got just to myself. Sometimes the results are shocking. When you integrate in that start/stop, it becomes insanely clear just how many times you get distracted.

If you wanted to get even fancier, you could always have another timer queued up for “distracted time”, which is how much time you spent on non-work related tasks. Then you can compare at the end of the day and see which won out.

Over time, you can even pay attention to when these things occur based on your start times. Are you super distracted from the hours of 12-2 for example? Maybe during those times, you should just plan to deal with all those distractions and not bother “working” in the traditional sense. Batch all your social media checking, blogging, chatting, emailing, etc, in that time. Then all the other hours you can do your focus-required work.

Those are just some ideas for improving your productivity. Be sure to check out TimeTag to make all of that easier!