Unless you are independently wealthy, being freer tomorrow requires a way to make money. But if you are like me, you sometimes get stuck. This article is designed to help you get unstuck.
The last few months have been a tough time for getting work done. Between moving, spending 10 days in the USA taking care of my Mom’s estate, visiting my daughter, and getting married, it has been tough to concentrate on my writing. Especially when you consider that I was without Internet access at home for 6 weeks straight!
But all that is in the past. You can expect to see the FreerTomorrow articles flowing once again. I’ve broken through the delays and the procrastination and am back on duty.
To get things going again, we’ll talk about getting going again on your projects after an extended stop. I recently posted a message in a writer’s group looking for people’s tips on how they get and stay productive.
As luck would have it, right after I posted that message, I came across several tips that other creative people use to get the content flowing. While some of these tips are specific to a particular field, most of the information you will find here pertains to getting going again on anything that requires creativity and initiative.
In the interest of getting productive, I’ve decided to turn this into several posts. I planned on one big post, but seeing how my list of tips has grown, and how much there is to actually write about them, that seems like a bad idea. What I will do is give you a reasonably deep look at one or two tips in each post, along with one or more links to places where you can find more information on this topic.
This approach will let me get content out the door in a timely manner, and let you evaluate each tip more thoroughly than you could in the usual, “10 Tips to Productivity” list style article.
The first tip in this post is:
For many of us, distractions are a major impediment to getting started on our work and staying focused as the day goes on. A noisy environment, the lure of social media, even a messy desk can serve as distractions to keep us from getting productive. Fortunately, there are ways to at least reduce, if not totally eliminate, each of the common types of distractions.
Social media is a highly addictive, and very persistent, type of distraction. It can be very hard to ignore that beep, or buzz or whatever sound your social media apps use to notify you that there is something new and shiny to look at. Once you let social media grab your attention, it is very easy to burn 10, 20, 30 (or more) minutes before escaping back to doing actual work.
Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to cut down on social media distractions.
If don’t need to connect to the rest of the world to work, disconnect for a while. Disconnecting your computer from the Internet is all you need to do to prevent the problem. If you use a smartphone, you will want to disable its Internet access as well. This may seem extreme, but it is a sure-fire way to eliminate this form of distraction and be more productive.
What if you can’t disconnect? Maybe you need to use the Internet in your work. Or maybe you are on call for something and must always be reachable. We can deal with this too.
Try muting all or part of any social media apps that you don’t need to do your work. Pretty much every social media app gives you some way to mute individuals, or groups, or all alerts at once. This gives you the ability to customize for your specific circumstances. Sometimes all you need to do is mute one or two people or channels of communication to eliminate most of the distraction.
For example, on Whatsapp, I get more messages from my brother than from everyone else I know put together. They are useful, but can really interrupt my work flow and normally don’t have any urgency. That means I can ignore messages when I am working and read them when I have free time. So, when I want to really reduce my social media distractions, I can mute him on Whatsapp while still being available to other people.
Depending on what devices and operating systems you are using to connect to the Internet, you might be able to find some sort of app that blocks your access to most or all social media, without keeping you from visiting other sites.
Making this work does require some discipline, both from you and from the people you communicate with. In reality, most social media stuff is not time-sensitive, or even very important. Yet there is a lot of pressure to be online all the time, and to respond to alerts immediately.
Disconnecting from the Internet, or muting social media channels will keep them from interrupting your work. But you still need to convince yourself that you are not missing out on anything important by ignoring this stuff until later.
You also need to change the perspective of the people you communicate with regularly. If you and Sally chat a lot on some messaging app, she may become upset if you suddenly start ignoring her messages until the end of the work day. You may need to explain to some people what you are doing and why. Let them know that you still value your interactions, just not when you getting productive work done.
The second tip we will talk about today is:
It’s noisy where I live. Cars, kids, construction and other sources of random noise can be very distracting. Keeping external noise out is a tough job, unless you can sound-proof your workspace. I did that once, but it is generally not practical. Even so, there are ways to reduce the noise-related distractions you experience.
Many productive people reduce the amount of noise they experience by working when others are sleeping. I’ve found this to be a productive strategy. I tend to wake up very early in the morning (between 3 and 4 AM). When I have the discipline to do so, I immediately start working on whatever is my top priority for the day. As a result, I can often get in a couple of hours of work without external noise distractions because most people are still asleep!
The same idea applies if you are a night owl. Lots of creative folks are night owls, and are often awake until 2 or 3 AM. Most people are in bed long before then, meaning much less noise to distract you.
Of course, this tip requires you to be able to work at odd hours. If you have an office job, you probably need to be at the office when everyone else is. Likewise, you may not be able to confine your work hours to only those hours when other people are asleep.
NOTE: If you do work in an office, the book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” contains very detailed advice for eliminating a range of office-type distractions. From dealing with co-workers who want to chat, to dodging pointless meetings, this book can help you with getting productive in the office.
In cases where you can’t do all your work when the rest of the world sleeps, I recommend that you…
White noise generators create some kind of random sound that can play in the background while you work. “White noise” which is a type of noise produced by mixing together all the frequencies of sound a human can hear.
How does adding noise to your environment reduce noise-related distractions?
Because it contains all the different frequencies of sounds you can hear, the white noise masks the distracting sounds, making it harder for your brain to focus on them.
I used to think that the whole white noise thing was just some trendy bit of pseudo-science. But in recent years I have started using this effect to help me with noise-related distractions. That said, I cannot guarantee that a white noise generator will be effective for you. It appears to depend on how your brain works as well as the particular type of work you are doing at the time.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
“The effects of white noise upon cognitive function are mixed. Recently, a small study found that white noise background stimulation improves cognitive functioning among secondary students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), while decreasing performance of non-ADHD students. Other work indicates it is effective in improving the mood and performance of workers by masking background office noise, but decreases cognitive performance in complex card sorting tasks.”
Further confusing the issue is the fact that there are other types of noise generators available to mask noise. For example, I listen to “brown noise” from an app on my tablet. This app, Noise Wall, can generate 4 different types of noise targeted at different circumstances. The brown noise seems more effective for me, but your results may vary.
One more complication is that there are “white noise” generators that can also create a range of random-ish sounds taken from natural or human sources. Waterfalls, ventilation fans, and rain sounds seem particularly common.
To summarize, there are a ton of noise generators out there that can mask out noise-related distractions. I suggest you search online for some free apps that you can test. The odds are good you can find something that works for you.
That’s it for this post. Watch for the next post with more tips for getting productive!
If you have any thoughts or stories to share about these two tips or getting productive in general, please share them below.