By Nir Eyal
They’re part of the secret of becoming Indistractable.
Got a few minutes? Then why not use them to implement these quick fixes that cut distraction and aid productivity?
From adjustments to your phone, desktop, email, and more, these productivity hacks all take less than 30 minutes to complete, and they’ll help you thwart those external triggers that are usually the culprit for your struggle with distraction.
A caveat: Becoming more productive isn’t as simple as finding the “perfect” productivity apps or hacks. No app or hack is so magical as to instantly morph you into a super-productive, always-focused person.
To become Indistractable, you’d have to follow my Indistractable model:
- Step 1: Master internal triggers
- Step 2: Make time for traction
- Step 3: Hack back external triggers
- Step 4: Prevent distraction with pacts
So, let’s file these productivity hacks under Step 3 and get started. Here are 8 productivity improvements to make, in just 2 to 30 minutes:
Less Than 2 Minutes
Use your phone to your advantage
Apple iOS has a range of focus modes that silence disruptions while you’re driving, sleeping, and working. It also lets you create custom focus modes for when you’re exercising, reading, meditating, and more. Android’s Digital Wellbeing’s focus mode lets you preset a schedule to automatically mute certain apps during personal time or your scheduled focused work sessions. Every hour, a chime goes off on my phone to help me stay on track with my timeboxed calendar. Rather than let the hours slip by, I know when I need to speed up my work pace, and I can correct my pace before it derails the rest of the day.
Declutter your desktop
Visual clutter can lead to mental clutter. Therefore, it’s important to have a clean workspace.
How you go about this depends on your preferences. Are you someone who chooses to properly organize every file taking up space on your desktop? Fine! But if you’re like me, you might cheat and simply throw everything on your desktop into a desktop file marked, well, Everything.
This may seem like too quick a fix, but I’ve found that sorting files into folders is an unnecessary step. My desktop is clean, and I can search for whatever document I need in my Everything folder.
Less Than 15 Minutes
Filter your emails
Don’t open and respond to all emails in the same span of time. Instead, rely on the two-touch method for emails: At the first touch, you’ll open the email and tag it for response either Today or This Week. Then you’ll close it without replying—unless it needs an immediate response.
Tagging emails in this way frees your mind from distraction because you know you’ll reply during the specified time you’ve allocated for this purpose in your timeboxed schedule: I set aside time every day to reply to Today emails and three hours at the end of my week to respond to This Week emails.
It’s okay to multitask if you follow my rule for multichannel multitasking.
For instance, you can walk and listen to a podcast at the same time. You can do laundry and brainstorm the opening lines for that next blog post. Personally, I exercise and use the Pocket app to listen to online articles I flagged earlier.
Spend a few minutes thinking of how you might bundle your tasks to save time.
Less Than 30 Minutes
Implement the 4 Rs of hacking back your smartphone
The first three Rs might take you 30 minutes combined, and the last takes about 30 minutes on its own.
Remove: Kick to the curb all apps that no longer serve you or align with your values. Purging these will create more space on your phone and shrink the potential for distraction.
Replace: Rather than give in to the temptation to constantly check problematic apps like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, consider replacing them with a new system. Delete those apps from your phone and instead add time for social media (or whatever qualifies as your “problematic app”) to a timeboxed calendar. That way you can indulge your social media craving at the allotted time, without guilt.
Rearrange: Create your “Essential Home Screen.” Tony Stubblebine, editor in chief of the popular medium publication Better Human says to sort your apps into three categories: Primary Tools, Aspirations, and Slot Machines.
Primary Tools are those you rely on frequently—the ones that get you a ride or directions to a location. Limit this category to six apps.
Aspirations are for healthy habit-building apps for meditation, exercise, reading, and more.
Slot Machine apps are the problematic ones that drive you to distraction, and if you don’t delete them, then you should remove them from your Home Screen. In fact, I recommend hiding them from your display screens altogether and instead using the search function on your phone to access them. Not having that app just one click away may give you the breath you need to refocus on your real task.
Reclaim: Turn off the visual and sound notifications for all apps, except for those that share urgent messages, like the phone and texting apps. It’s a one-and-done act that pays lifelong dividends.
My hope is that implementing these tips will not only help to save you from distraction, but also give you the results and motivation you need to pursue becoming Indistractable.
By the way—the timeboxed calendar I mentioned throughout this post is the most powerful productivity hack in my repertoire. Building it from scratch takes no longer than 30 minutes and you’ll get a great start by using my free schedule maker template. Timeboxing: Why It Works and How to Get Started in 2023 (nirandfar.com)
Nir Eyal is the bestselling author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. Nir blogs at NirAndFar.com
Get a complimentary Indistractable workbook at: https://www.nirandfar.com/subscribe-behavior-change/
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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.