Whether you are a student or work a full-time job, the only way to achieve results is by putting in work. Once you have overcome the the resistance to doing work, how do you ensure that the work you are doing is meaningful and free of distractions?
In this article, I explore effective strategies for doing work, helping leave you stress-free, more productive and with more free time to do the things you enjoy.
Why This Matters To Me (And Why It Should Matter To You Too)
I am currently studying for a master’s degree. I am also working freelance online as my primary source of income.
This means that I am in control of my own time, deciding how many hours I put in to university and freelance work, and when those hours are.
Whether you are a student, you work freelance or work a job that requires you to get things done, the ability to put in solid, undistracted hours of work is essential.
Even if your job isn’t based on how much you get done in a specific day, wouldn’t it be great to finish your work without distraction, putting in more solid hours of work than the rest of your team, earning the respect of your boss and potentially getting a raise/promotion in the process?
Below are four strategies that I have implemented myself to get more done when it comes to university and freelance work.
Remove Social Media Distractions
Sites like Reddit, Instagram and Twitter provide immediate, enjoyable distraction and are inevitable time drains. They are not a useful tool to have in your arsenal if you want to focus on getting work done.
Such sites and apps are designed to hijack as much of your attention as possible, using features like ‘Snapchat streaks’, which encourage people to spend more time using the app, rewarding users for constantly sending messages back and forth to one another.
While I’m not anti-social media (I think it’s an invaluable tool for connection), checking these sites when you have work to do is one of the most destructive things you can do for your productivity and attention span.
I recently deleted my Reddit account. After weighing up the benefits and drawbacks, I realised that I was checking Reddit any time I felt bored, and that included when I needed to get work done.
If you notice that you are checking these sites when you need to be doing work, or you find yourself compulsively wondering if there are any new notifications, then the best thing to do is to delete your account.
If you think this is too drastic, and you find that you do get some value out of these sites, then I would suggest deleting their apps from your phone, and limiting the time you can spend on them, which leads nicely to the next point…
Limit Your Hours on Distracting Websites
Recently I discovered Inbox When Ready, a fantastic Chrome extension which adds a simple “Show Inbox” button to the Gmail interface, allowing you to compose messages without getting distracted by a full inbox.
All too often we login to our email, or social media, to complete one task, but then find ourselves distracted by our news feeds, inboxes and other distractions.
One way to apply the Inbox When Ready principle to social media would be to not stay logged in to your social media accounts. It’s all too easy to open a new tab, type “f”, have “facebook.com” auto-complete, and be immediately presented with your Facebook account.
However, if you put just one more task between you and your news feed, you are more likely to catch yourself, realise “Ah, I’m getting distracted”, and close the not-yet-logged-in Facebook page.
Blocking yourself from accessing these sites at all will help boost your productivity massively, and there are several other apps to help limit your time spent on social media.
Put Away Your Phone
Even if you still feel the urge to use social media sites and distracting apps, if you cannot access them from your pocket it will be easier to get work done.
When I know I have some “deep work” (see below) to do, I leave mine in a drawer, in another room, on silent.
This makes sure that I don’t impulsively reach for my phone whenever I feel like the work I am doing is challenging, or boring.
If you are out of the house, you could turn your phone off and leave it at the bottom of your bag, or in a coat pocket.
If the distraction of a novel and entertaining device such as a smartphone is easily accessible, then all that is stopping you from succumbing to picking it up is your own willpower, which, let’s face it, isn’t great in the face of boredom.
Keeping your phone nearby when doing work is like going on a diet, but leaving the cupboards stocked with chocolate. The best thing you can do is to remove the negative distraction completely.
Track Your Deep Work Hours
In his book Deep Work, professor and productivity guru Cal Newport describes a system he calls ‘Deep Work’ – dedicating specific hours of your day dedicated to solid, focused, undistracted work.
Deep Work is invaluable in today’s modern society, especially when so many of us work at computers, where checking email and social media takes no effort at all. To achieve peak productivity, it is essential to schedule these Deep Work hours, making sure you let people who may be trying to reach you that you will be unavailable during this time, and to remove all distractions from your workspace, perhaps using some of the tips outlined above.
I have been keeping a Deep Work calendar, tracking the hours that I spend doing focused work every day. It’s not great so far, but it’s a start, and it’s make me realise how much time I actually spend distracted.
Do you have any productivity tips for the times when you need to get things done? I’d love to hear them below!