How I Minimize Distractions


Being clear on what’s important. Being honest with myself about my own habits. Protect how and where my attention is being pulled. Manage my own calendar.

I know I’m going to want to work on personal stuff, surf a bit, and do some reading. Knowing that I’m a morning person I start my day off before work on something for myself. Usually it falls under reading, writing, or coding.

After that I usually scan through my feed reader and read anything that catches my eye, surf a few regular sites and check my personal email.

When I do start work the first thing I do is about one hour of reactive work. All of those notifications and requests needing my attention get worked on. Right now this usually looks like catching up on email, Slack, Github, and Trello.

I then try to have a few chunks of time blocked off in my calendar throughout the week as “Focused Work”. This creates space to focus on what I need to work on while leaving time to be available for anyone else.

The key has been managing my own calendar to allow time for my attention to be directed on the things I want, the things I need, and the needs of others.

I do keep a running text file where I write out the important or urgent things that need to be done for the day. I’ll also add notes when something interrupts me. When I used to write this out on paper I used this sheet from Dave Seah called The Emergent Task Timer. I found it helped to write out what needs to be done each day and to track what things are pulling my attention away from more important things.

Because the type of work that I do can be interrupt driven I orientate my team in a similar fashion. By creating that same uninterrupted time for everyone it allows us to minimize the impact of distractions. During the week there are blocks of time where one person is the interruptible person while everyone else snoozes notifications in Slack, ignores email and gets some work done.

This also means focusing on minimizing the impact of alert / notification fatigue. Have a zero tolerance on things that page you repeatedly or adds unnecessary notifications to your day

The key really is just those four things I listed at the beginning.

You have to be clear in what is important both for yourself and for those you’re accountable to.

You have to be honest with yourself about your own habits. If you keep telling yourself you’re going to do something, but you never do… well there’s probably something else at play. Maybe you’re more in love with the idea rather than with the doing it.

You need to protect your attention from being pulled away for things that are not important or urgent.

You can work towards those three points by managing your own calendar. Besides tracking the passage of days a calendar schedules where your attention will be focused on. If you don’t manage it others will manage it for you.

I view these as ideals that I try to aim for. The circumstances I’m in might not allow me to always to so, but it does give me direction on how I work each day.

And yeah when I’m in the office I use headphones.