How to Increase Productivity by Simply Disconnecting

By Selene M. Bowlby in Productivity on January 26th, 2010

How to Increase Productivity by Disconnecting

As great as technology is, when it comes to finding the time to completely immerse yourself in your work, let’s face it – the same technology we depend on can just as quickly turn into a major hindrance. Being a web designer, the very nature of my job requires that I spend the majority of my workday online – which makes it that much more important that I take extra care not to get easily sidetracked.

While the suggestions below are mostly common sense, and quite frankly nothing you probably haven’t already heard, sometimes you need a bit of a reminder – myself included! These are all tried and true tricks that work, as long as you commit yourself to sticking to them.

First Things First: Limit Your (Online) Social Activities

Yes, I admit it – Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are among my guilty social pleasures. And while it can be difficult, sometimes you just need to set aside a certain amount of time to commit to NOT logging back in. Whether you decide to stay away for X number hours, or until you complete a certain project or task – sometimes you just have to say “No!” Or at least, “not right now.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong with taking a break with some social networking. In fact, if done correctly your networking efforts can lead to new business! But it’s just as important to know when it’s time to lay low for a while, until after you’ve put in a decent amount of time and effort on your current projects.

That Goes Double For Those Third-Party Social Apps

Although I used to rely on third party apps, such as TweetDeck, I’ve recently streamlined my workflow, and primarily just stick to visiting the social media sites directly in my browser. It’s just one less open application pulling resources from my computer. However, if you are using a third party app, whatever your weapon of choice happens to be, simply minimizing the application doesn’t usually cut it. That goes for the notification center for those of us on a Mac, too!

At the very least, be sure to disable any notifications the program might have, as this is often the most distracting part. But even without frequent pop-ups when new messages are posted, just seeing the icon as an open application makes it all too easy to click on it for “just one quick minute.”

We all know how most social networking sites work – “just one quick minute” quickly turns into 5 updates, 20 responses, 7 direct messages and 10 new articles to read (and share) from various blogs…

An hour later, you’re now that much closer to potentially missing a deadline. So when you have work that has to get done, the best thing to do is just shut it down!

Close Your Web Browser… Or At Least Hide the Bookmark Toolbar

If I’m on the design phase of a web site, I can easily close down my web browser and stay focused in Photoshop. But when I move onto the development stage, I need to have at least one (if not multiple) web browsers open for testing purposes.

My biggest downfall with this is that handy-dandy bookmark toolbar with links to TwitterFacebookGoogle+ and the like. With so many of my favorite sites not more than a single click away, it’s all but impossible to not take another “quick” look for “just one minute.”

The simple act of hiding this particular toolbar makes it more difficult than simply clicking a favicon to access these sites.

And While You’re At It – Hide the Address Bar, Too

If you really want to get down to business, consider hiding the address bar, as well. Because let’s face it – without the single click of the facebook favicon calling your name, how difficult is it to type “facebook.com” into the address bar and hit enter? Exactly! lol

What has helped me tremendously is to first open up windows or tabs with the sites I’m currently working on – for example the WordPress admin area of this very post I’m writing in one tab, and the preview version of the post in another. Once these are open, I hide the address bar. This makes it that much more difficult for me to stray off to another web site (or ten), and makes focusing much easier.

A helpful hint… just hit “Ctr” + “R” to refresh or reload the browser window to view new changes.

Don’t Live In Your Inbox

Many people (myself included) keep their email inbox open in the background as they work. It often serves as a reference point, for example to view a list of updates a client needs to make to their web site – something I need to have readily available when working on that particular project. I’m not one for paper clutter, so I prefer to keep this open on the screen, rather than printing it out.

Depending on the available settings on your email client, one simple trick to keep this from becoming a distraction is to increase the amount of time between automatic email checks. Or better yet, change it to manual checking only.

As for the email client, I used to have it automatically download messages every 15 minutes. Even if I only sit down and respond to emails at set times (once, sometimes twice a day) I like being in the loop and seeing what is in store for me. But let’s be honest – seeing that popup with a new message every few minutes is a BIG distraction, one that’s almost impossible not to click on.

Instead, I’ve recently changed my settings to only download mail once every 2 hours. I might get brave and up this to once every 3-4 hours. Maybe… lol. This change alone can be a tough pill to swallow! But after a week or two it will feel like second nature, and you’ll be amazed at how much more productive it can make you.

Turn Off the Ringer and Schedule All Calls

The phone can be another BIG distraction. Calls can easily last close to an hour (even “quick” calls are usually a minimum of 20-30 minutes long). That’s precious time when you are trying to reach a deadline by the end of the day, and didn’t account for phone calls eating into your already tight schedule.

I’m a bit of a stickler for this one (some might use the term obsessive / compulsive) but I schedule 99% of my phone calls, whether they be from prospects or active clients. If you are like me, and lucky enough to have the majority of your work come from non-local clients, it’s not unheard of to consider phone calls to be the equivalent of in-person meetings. For most professional service providers, you have to make an appointment to meet with them. Since none of my clients are local, I follow this general rule for phone calls, as well.

Scheduling your phone calls makes a tremendous difference in being able to keep on track when working on a deadline. Think about it… if in a given day, 3 clients call about revisions to their sites, and a potential new client wants to pick your brain about their best options, you could easily spend a quarter of that day on the phone. Spur of the moment calls usually mean that my mind is half watching the clock, because I know I need to hurry up and get back to work, so as not to get behind on my schedule.

But consider the alternative… if it is a scheduled phone call instead, I’ll have an hour blocked out for the call; I’ll be well prepared for it; and will know that I’m devoting 100% of my attention to that client (or potential client) while we are on the phone. And I won’t risk missing a deadline, and therefore angering a client. That’s a win-win, in my book.

The simplest way to go about this, is to simply turn off your ringer, and let all calls go to voicemail. You will still get the message, and if it’s urgent, you can call back ASAP. Otherwise, try to schedule a time convenient to both parties, where you know the other person will get your full and undivided attention.

Smartphones: The Ultimate Godsend… er Distraction

I think it’s safe to say that if you are reading this, you own a smartphone – in fact, there’s a good chance you are reading this on a smartphone. But while smartphones are a Godsend that keep us constantly connected to email, instant messaging, social media, etc – it is also just another vehicle for distraction.

So when working, set your phone to “Phone Only”, “Do Not Disturb”, “Airplane Mode” or equivalent so you don’t get sidetracked with every message that comes in. And if you are truly serious about staying focused, turn it off entirely so you can adhere to the same phone rules above (especially when working on a deadline).

There’s no point to increasing the amount of time between automatic checks of the email client on your computer, if your phone is going to alert you every single time a new message comes in. Yes, push notification is a wonderful thing, but it can really hinder productivity, as well. By keeping your phone silent, you’ll help curb any additional distractions.

(Not So) Instant Messaging

Whether you use Gtalk, Skype, Yahoo or a multi-IM client like Pidgin – instant messaging is yet another distraction that can hinder productivity.

This one is actually no longer an issue for me. I used to use multiple IM services, but over time I reduced the number of services, and eventually dropped them altogether. Unless I have a specific conversation going, I really don’t need to receive any messages *that* instantaneously. Email works just fine for me.

If you do still use IM however, when hard at work on a particular project, you should at a minimum, set your status to “Busy.” Some IM clients, like Skype, will hold back on alerting you to new messages if your status is set to busy – it will just update the icon in the status bar, rather than actually opening up the chat window on your behalf. A nice touch, if you ask me! This way you know the message is there, but you don’t feel obligated to answer right this second.

While most people respect the “Busy” icon – especially if you update your status message with something referencing “deadlines” – not everyone will hold your same sense of urgency. For this reason alone, the ideal situation is to close out of the program entirely.

Like social networking, choose your times wisely – log back in when it’s time for a break and some chit-chat. But when deadlines are looming, you’re better off laying low…

How Do YOU Disconnect?

In my never-ending quest to make the most of my time, I’ve been implementing more and more of these suggestions on a regular basis, and definitely see a peak in my performance when I do so. Of course, I am always looking for even better ways to maximize productivity, so I would love to hear your best tips and tricks to disconnect!

What do you do to ensure that you stay focused on the task at hand? Please share in the comments below!

Oh, and yes, as a matter of fact I did follow EVERY single item on this page in order to finish writing this post. ;)

Editor’s Note: This post was last modified on February 12, 2014 to update some of my current methods that have changed since this article was originally posted.

About the Author

About the AuthorSelene M. Bowlby is a web designer and front-end web developer with over 15 years of professional experience in the design industry. As the owner of iDesign Studios she specializes in creating custom WordPress driven web sites for other small businesses. Follow Selene on . more »

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24 Responses to “How to Increase Productivity by Simply Disconnecting”

  1. Jen says:

    That’s a great list. I’ll try to do this to stay focused. Thanks!

  2. Peter Safwat says:

    Amazing tips Selene, But really hard to apply. what you are talking about in this post is the main problem of my life, I really had a very hard time to organize my time and stop wasting a big part of it on mails and social networks etc… you have really mentioned most of the solutions that i could think of(even though they are hard to apply). I could add only 1 thing which is that you really have to be 100% decided that you don’t want to waste your time and that you will not let any thing takes your attention away from you goals

  3. Great post, Selene! I can’t EVEN imagine setting my email client to anything more than 5 minutes let alone 2 hours! :O LOL However, you have inspired me, so I might try 30 minutes once I’m “done” with e-mail for the time being. And, do you know how many times I close my browser only to open it back up again? Too many. It’s such a distraction! I, too, put my Blackberry on “phone only” though, otherwise the alerts drive me nuts all day. Anyway, I just wanted you to know you’re not alone and I loved the tips.

  4. danc says:

    Hi Selene, finally you released a new post, after a long wait. I think the final solution to get productivity is to be more self discipline and work smarter. Otherwise, it is just a empty talk. RIght. :)

  5. Dianne says:

    Selene, I’m really glad you stopped procrastinating and wrote this post!! It’s fantastic.. working smarter is definitely the way to go :) I picked up a few great tips that will help me overcome some distractions! KUDOS :)

  6. Andrea_r says:

    :D Great tips! Now retweet this every day as a reminder to us slackers. ;)

    There’s a setting in tweetdeck to change to make sure it actually exists (and not just minimizes) when you click the X in the corner.

    I’ve also blocked myself form visiting a few sites, by redirecting them in my computer’s hosts file. (yes, seriously). Even though I know I can go change it, it’s reminder enough.

  7. Doug C. says:

    Twitter isn’t too much of a distraction, mainly because I never get any reciprocating activity from it so it feels like a waste of time. I absolutely abhor Facebook so that one isn’t a problem. I don’t have any third-party apps and I rarely open Messenger.

    I guess I got quite the productivity persona, eh?

  8. Doug C. says:

    Selene, thanks for this article. It reminded me of one of my New Years resolutions – trimming my non-reciprocative Twitter followers (or non-followers).

    I decided I’m tired of following a bunch of people who never interact with me, my sites, or what I write. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now and then just start following those people who truly interact with me and what I do.

  9. Arlene says:

    Funny you should post this today. I spent the entire morning listing what I needed to trim back to be more productive. Guess it didn’t work, I opened tweetdeck, found this link, read it, and whats worse, we need to add to the list .. clicking on the links in the comments and reading their blogs! Yikes, I just lost another hour. So, I’m closing this up and trying to make up for lost time! LOL…thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one who loses my day in all these thingS!

  10. SaraKate says:

    Great tips, Selene. I recently (just a few months ago) turned off the incoming email notifications at work, set TweetDeck API calls back to less frequent intervals, and logged out of personal email while at work just about entirely. This has helped immensely with distractions. Disconnecting can be a powerful thing. I usually check my work email about once an hour or so throughout the day since my boss and I often communicate that way and my priorities may change if there are emails that need immediate attention. That said, I am also trying to keep as few emails in my inbox as possible. When I get an email, I try to DO the thing in the email, check it off my list, respond, or do whatever I need to do to turn that email into an action and get it done. Once I’ve done that, I delete the email (or put it in the appropriate folder). In the last month or so, I’ve managed to keep the number of emails in my inbox under ten (for the most part) and I feel like a great weight (and huge distraction) has been lifted off my shoulders.

  11. it doesn’t take a genius to know all of this. we just need to know our priority and the things that needs to be done. But people behind these social networking site, im programs, smartphones, gadgets… are so good that they can even tell you that you will have superpowers when you play farmville for 10 hours straight. :-)

  12. Selene,

    You are right-on! And that’s what made our working relationship so productive! When we corresponded, I always felt like I got the full “you,” as you didn’t allow yourself to get distracted by all the other things that can easily grab one’s attention.

    I, too, believe that in order to be more focused, productive, and effective…it’s all about connecting with what’s most important in the moment, and letting all else go off the radar for the moment. This is definitely one of the biggest issues that my clients–who are busy professionals–struggle with.

    Thanks for this great post and for all the helpful tips and tricks!

    Rock on!
    Michelle

  13. David says:

    I agree with you! As much as some of us are tech freaks, we need to wind down. Like in the Matrix, someone told NEO that he needed to unplug and let loose. :)

    Determining and implementing our priorities is one of the keys of increasing productivity. That, and a whole lot of caffeine ;)

    Great post!

  14. Daniele K says:

    Personally, I give myself 10 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes after lunch and 30 minutes before ending my working day. ok it’s 1 hour on 9 better than nothing :)

    d.

  15. That was a well-written piece that seemed to touch all the bases. Great work.

  16. Hello, this was quite a good read for me. Since, at this particular period of time, I feel that my productivity is getting low and would like to increase my efficiency at work.

    A wonderful and quite helpful post indeed. I will definitely try to follow the points noted above. Thanks.

    Oh yes by the way, I like to listen to some soft music to stay in cool state of mind while at work.

  17. Ian Brodie says:

    Great tips – thanks Selene. I particularly fall victim to checking email so I have to actually close it down to make sure I don’t just flick across to see what’s landed in my inbox.

    I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Pomodoro technique. It’s a great free ebook describing a productivity technique that involves disconnecting – then using a kitchen timer (the eponymous Pomodoro) to make sure you’re doing blasts of focused work. I use it and it really works – having a physical ticking timer in front of you really focuses your mind much better than a virtual one on your computer or just using your watch.

    Ian

  18. My internet was actually down the other day, and I found my offline productivity improved, haha. It can be difficult not having online tools at your fingertips, but it can also be very helpful in getting things done!

  19. behzad says:

    Great article, I should start to discipline myself.

  20. Derek says:

    Great read! I’m definitely guilty of wasting time on sites like facebook -thanks for the tips!

    Derek

  21. Cristy says:

    Ok, I have this problem too. I think it’s actually worse. I’m also a web designer & programmer but it’s very hard to focus on one task not only because the things you pointed above but also because I can’t really decide what to do : web design or programming?

    Also, I’ve already started like 5 websites ( like twitter, facebook, etc, but much different) but I never got to finish one because I think: “hey, this project is cool, but do you know what’s cooler? another project…”

    To “fight against” the problems described above I usualy open Photoshop and try to work even if I want to check some news sites,messenger, twitter, etc… I simply open the program and tell myself:” ok, and now I design something”. The hardest part in finishing something is starting that something.

    Nice post :D

  22. Maria says:

    Selene,

    The best way to increase productivity is to focus on one task at a time and not the so called ‘multitasking’. One must focus on one thing at one time.

    I check my email and other accounts only twice a day. First in the morning and then in the evening. This way I save almost 2 hours :)

  23. Kristen B. says:

    The only distraction for me while working is the social networking sites. It is because I checked it and used it in promoting something so it wasn’t a big hindrance. Maybe I should learn how to prioritize more and budget my time. But I have to admit that disconnecting could save a lot of time. Thanks for the tips in increasing productivity.

  24. Danai Panagiwtopoulou says:

    I am freelance web designer and i think disconnecting is essential when your productivity is low.. I’ve even written some wrticles on that. But i surely loved yours! Thanks!!

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