I've done a few things recently that have greatly reduced the perceived strain on my little brain during the work day:

  1. I rarely run instant messaging clients anymore. Just as I realized after giving up television, this is something that was far more distracting and I first realized.
  2. Change mailing list subscriptions. We have an internal news server (news as in NNTP or Usenet) at Yahoo that gets a subset of our high-volume internal mailing lists. I changed my subscription preferences so that I get them as a daily digest that'll still be searchable locally. As for actively reading them, I do that once or twice a day with Thunderbird. This resulted in a lot less context switching too.
  3. Wake up at the same time every day. Not having to change my alarm clock setting means not worrying as much about what's going on tomorrow. It's a stupid but simple trick that really does help.

Have you tried cutting stuff from your daily work routine recently? Did it help?

Posted by jzawodn at February 13, 2006 05:44 PM

Reader Comments
# Craig Hughes said:

My favorite tip from 43F: set the "auto-fetch-new-mail" time on your MUA to 1 hour instead of 1 minute. Context switches kill.

on February 13, 2006 06:03 PM
# Patrick said:

I cut work out of my day. Now that was destracting me from watching daytime TV!


on February 13, 2006 06:33 PM
# Eric Boutilier said:

Wow! You are reading my mind. I can vouch for all 3 (actually 4) of these tactics -- bigtime.

Here's one more I would add: Half-caf, high-quality Joe (1-2 cups) when I wake up, full-caf (Another 2 cups at least) about 8-9 hours later. No more caffeine 'til beddy bye ('tween 11-12 for me).

Eric Boutilier

on February 13, 2006 06:57 PM
# Alex said:

I stopped reading and replying to blog pos -- dammit.

on February 13, 2006 06:58 PM
# Search-Engines-Web.com said:

surprisingly, turing off overhead Florescent lighting and using inconspicious desk lamps with different Settings can work wonders!!!

The real ace in the hole is getting sound absorbing material along an office / cubicle Walls!!!

on February 13, 2006 07:21 PM
# ct said:

I'm gonna follow your lead and turn off the IM.

I already turn off auto-check on email. I get mail when I want it.

Finally, I'm going to ditch my RSS feeds.

Less consuming. More producing.

on February 13, 2006 07:24 PM
# TechnoBalance said:

Well, I do not have TV since 2000 mid-summer and IM use only for core team communication at company jabber. Some new toy like digg.com took me day or tow (3-4 hours) but it is not so serious.
I have notice that brain sometimes simply required some kind of rest, switch even manuals and user guides, installations can be real distraction.
On the end best thing to keep me focused is switching focus on not more then three things, if you can keep that schedule.

on February 13, 2006 07:28 PM
# Jeffrey McManus said:

There are people who wake up at a different time each day? Dude. I could not imagine that, seriously.

on February 13, 2006 07:49 PM
# Lee Odden said:

Gave up TV (but not Netflix) 5 years ago and haven't looked back. IM set to "invisible" and haven't had the balls to turn off altogether, good for you. Have reduced email newsletter subscriptions to 4 or 5 from 40. Now if I can just do something about all these clients....

on February 13, 2006 08:04 PM
# Grant Hutchins said:

Your suggestions are good ones. I've used a variant of all the methods you've given, except that as a college student I have a schedule that changes dramatically from day to day, which makes it hard to wake up at the same time. I can't wait to graduate and get into the real world and start living on a sane schedule again.

on February 13, 2006 08:04 PM
# grumpY! said:

IM - never use it. never have. i don't really have any friends so this is not a problem.

lists? i use ilist to view the list archives at work. it makes unsubscribing as simple as not doing anything.

remove all items at work from your desk area you do not use once a week.

on February 13, 2006 09:29 PM
# Joe said:

I turn off IM.
I don't "live" in my inbox.
I check email every 60 minutes.
I move email from my inbox once I'm done with it.
I read the news (via bloglines) only in morning and at lunch.
I play some streaming music (shoutcast feed) and use headphones.
I fill my calendar (Outlook/Exchange) before someone else does.

on February 13, 2006 10:01 PM
# Melissa Della said:

5 years ago, I gave up tv (not because it was sucking too much time, but because I was bored with it - net effect is the same, though).

About 6 months ago, I put myself permanently away on IM. I only talk if I actually need to say something to someone in real-time (my client doesn't return me from away even if I'm talking).

I started closing my mail client for most of the day. When it's open, it still checks once a minute, but I'm only looking when I feel like it. I also pared down who was sending me mail and for what reasons (e.g. took myself off lists, finally stopped dragging my feet and left some activities I wasn't interested in that were still generating email, etc.).

I stopped trying to force myself into a regular, set schedule. :) I know this works for a lot of you, but I end up feeling worn out if I'm trying to stick to waking up and going to bed the same time day in and day out -- my internal clock just doesn't work that way. Thankfully most other things in my life don't interfere with my natural sleeping patterns, and ever since I was able to start doing this freely, I've been going to bed when I feel tired enough to fall asleep and wake up, get out of bed, and am ready to start my day immediately. No caffeine required.

I stopped hovering over my online reading list and got another hobby.

on February 14, 2006 03:00 AM
# Matt said:

I like these ideas. I have found myself becoming increasingly less productive and I seem to have more to do.

To this I would add scheduling breaks in through the day. Something like 5 minutes of every hour. I remember, from back in college, when I learned that was best for studying because you retain more. In the labs I learned that giving my mind that little break kept me fresh longer. Might as well try that at work.

on February 14, 2006 05:17 AM
# Greg Whitescarver said:

Not having the option of turning off IM, since it is something my coworkers and I use to work together (we all work from home), I just maintain a work screen name that I only distribute to people who need it or people who help me with work. While that certainly doesn't eliminate the distraction, it's been a big help.

I've found that RSS feeds reduce considerably the time I spend browsing the web. My news intake is down to around 20 minutes a day -- less than it ever was before I ditched TV (years ago) or hooked up with Bloglines (last year).

Since part of my job is customer service, I end up checking my email many times throughout the day. Filters that put new messages in different folders based on their source help me prioritize; I can ignore personal correspondence until the end of the day.

on February 14, 2006 07:08 AM
# Nick Arnett said:

We got a dog.

I work from home 90 percent of the time and it's easy to go stir-crazy. I started taking at least two walks a day even before getting the dog (we have a great park and library a couple of blocks away). Now, with the dog (a Maltese -- small, great temperament, no yapping), my walks are enforced.

I can't give up IM -- our company pretty much runs on it, since we are very distributed. But I gave up television a couple of years ago and never regretted it. Real newspapers, too -- I read parts of them on-line.

on February 14, 2006 07:47 AM
# Abhishek Goyal said:

I followed technique of waking up at one time everyday for sometime after reading this article http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/05/how-to-become-an-early-riser and i personally felt a lot of increase in energy and productivity. It feels great.

on February 14, 2006 08:52 AM
# Justin McCarthy said:

This kind of post makes me feel warm and fuzzy all over.

Maybe it's because I'm a bearded hippie, but when an attention-dependent blog prompts readers to reflect deeply on how we allocate our daily distraction budget, I can't help but think "Gee, that would never happen in mainstream media." :)

(13" Netflix-Watching Machine, 6:30AM alarm, Work-only IM, RSS before 9AM and after 9PM)

on February 14, 2006 09:04 AM
# Nick Berry said:

I'm surprised how many people commented with "close the email client". I would assume that most, if not all, people reading Jeremy's blog would have a technically-driven job, that in mind, how can you do that? I find that an email is much less intrusive than a phone call, and filters help even more so.

Jeremy, when you said wake up at the same time, did you mean on the weekends as well or were you waking up at different times during the week? That sounds a bit chaotic.

on February 14, 2006 09:13 AM
# chad said:

Damnit, what is one to do when he works for an IM company? I suppose I could turn off Y!M and ICQ, but those are so low volume compared to Xfire....

on February 14, 2006 11:19 AM
# Ruben said:

Yeah, I killed off your link blog.

on February 15, 2006 06:37 AM
# Patrick said:

I used to sit on IRC all the time, I quit that. However the couple of hours before lunch each day are basically a right off (going through the two Mac administrator type lists, local mailing lists, news that I need to stay on top of).

The biggest thing that distracts me is meetings. If I could drop more of those... :)

on February 17, 2006 02:53 AM
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