Getting things done has always been difficult. Whether it is more difficult today than in days past is a matter of speculation and hardly worth the effort. What is clear, though, is that we have many things, some good and some bad, competing for our time and attention. I believe a key to productivity today is a willingness to exercise self-control by refusing a lot of the capabilities our devices offer us. Maybe you should consider getting rid of these 6 things.
1. Get Rid of Email
Some day we will look back on this era and laugh at ourselves that we ever used a form of communication as ridiculous and as inefficient as email. I’ll grant that email has come a long way since its infancy, but it is still a woefully poor method of communicating with others.
We cannot get rid of email entirely; ironically we need an email address just to sign up for many of the better alternatives to email. But what we can do is deliberately reduce our dependence on it. Here’s how: Unsubscribe from every single email blast or group that is not absolutely necessary; turn off Facebook and Twitter email notifications; stop sending emails that serve no purpose (such as that “LOL!” reply to the funny video); work hard to eliminate every email you can. This may require a shift in your mind where you regard email as more of an enemy than a friend.
Even more importantly, resolve to check email only at regular intervals. Probably the single most helpful thing I’ve done is schedule email so that I check at (approximately) 9 AM and 5 PM Monday to Saturday and not at all on Sunday. I will send emails as I need to, but will check only twice per day. Try it and you may be shocked to learn that the world goes on even when you are not reading and answering emails all day, every day.
2. Get Rid of Distraction
I’ve had to admit to myself that in some areas of life I need to outsource my self-control. When I am bored and at a computer I compulsively, unthinkingly type in my favorite sites and, before I know it, I’ve wasted half an hour or more. That can be okay on a Saturday evening when I am relaxing, but it is very unhelpful on a Tuesday afternoon when I am on church time. Some time ago I wrote that Leechblock changed my life. I’ve since changed my browser from Firefox to Chrome which means I changed from Leechblock to ChromeNanny, but the principle remains. I have identified the sites I tend to go to when I just want to be amused and distracted (I’m looking at you, Facebook) and block them during working hours. If I try to access them, I get redirected to this page. Yes, I can work around it if I want, but just that little reminder is enough to steer me to more productive things.
3. Get Rid of Notifications
I’ve said often that our devices evolve toward distraction. With every new generation of phones, tablets or computers we have more notifications, more ways of being interrupted. Do you need to be interrupted with every email and Facebook update and tweet and Instagram and all the rest? No, you don’t. So turn them off and catch up with your social networks on your own schedule, not on your phone’s.
4. Get Rid of Mobile
There was a time when I checked email compulsively; when I had my phone in my hand I’d always hit the mail app and give my inbox a quick check. I’ve found a lot of freedom in determining not to use my phone or tablet for email or for most social media. In general, if I can do it on a computer I will do it there instead of on my phone. Not only are mobile devices a comparatively ridiculous way to write anything of substance (typing on that tiny on-screen keyboard) but it becomes a behavior that happens without thinking. My mobile devices give me capabilities I want, but certainly don’t need.
5. Get Rid of Multitasking
There is no multitasking. There is only task-switching, doing two things back and forth without really dedicating yourself to either. I love switching between two or three things—writing an article and checking Twitter, then writing some more, then jumping over to Facebook, then writing another few words, then checking out a few blogs. But when I multitask, the time it takes to do anything worthwhile increases and the quality decreases. Multitasking during a meeting (e.g. checking email while someone else is talking) is an ugly but all-too-common behavior. So get rid of multitasking, do one thing at a time, and do it with excellence.
6. Get Rid of Your Phone
Like email, you probably cannot get rid of your mobile phone all together. But what you can do is get rid of it during certain times and while you are with people. When you are meeting face-to-face, mute your phone and learn to ignore it. When you are with your family, put the phone away. When you are doing your devotions, shut it down. Learn to be fully present where you are without allowing your phone to constantly pull you away.