in Agile, General, Methodology, Usability

Reducing distractions, increasing productivity

I have been trying to reduce distractions in my computing environment lately. Apparently, our brains aren’t wired properly for task switching:

…research has also found that multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline, which can cause long-term health problems if not controlled, and contributes to the loss of short-term memory.

I spend a lot of time in front of my computer every day. I discovered that over time, I have added so much attention-stealing stuff to my main work environment that I feel constantly interrupted. You get growl notifications, tweets, new email sounds, new email icons, RSS feed notifications and IM alerts. When you are reading stuff on the web you are constantly bugged by the latest in advertising technology.

So, starting a couple of weeks ago I decided to remove attention-stealing stuff from my work environment. A short list so far:

  1. Disabling Growl notifications for everything but really important stuff. Done!
  2. Turning off new email notfications for Outlook (on my Windows computer at work). Done!
  3. Reduced ads in internet content by installing Adblock plus in FF3. Done!
  4. Removed MailPlane icon from taskbar. Set “Do not disturb” mode in MailPlane. Done!
  5. Turning off IM for long periods of time during the day. Done!
  6. Scheduling RSS reading to specific time slots during the day. Hard!
  7. Turning off notification sounds in Windows. Done!
  8. Hiding the windows taskbar to get rid of spinning mini-icons in the right-hand corner. Done!
  9. Turning off yellow alert popups from stuff in the Windows taskbar (like “A network cable was disconnected” – who the hell decided that that was a brilliant idea!?). Not sure how yet.
  10. Creatign a consistent editing environment for blogs and wikis with the Universal Edit Button. Done when they’ve fixed the Delicious extension incompatibility.

I am feeling a lot more focussed already. The biggest improvement was from turning of new email notifications in Outlook at work.  I guess the experience is similar to what people are getting from the pomodoro technique.

The next step is to reduce clutter in my blogs to stop annoying other people. Mark Pilgrim gave some interesting tips in a blog post a while ago and I have implemented some of them already. Who the hell needs a visible RSS link (or RSS for that matter, now that we have Atom)? I am thinking about removing the whole category list as well. Do people ever click items in the category list?

It would be great if all apps could share a standard API to set a “do not disturb mode” toggable via a keyboard shortcut or a small timer app that allowed you to schedule this mode throughout the workday.

  1. I agree, sometimes we get so terribly distracted – there is clearly to much noise.

    “4. Removed MailPlane icon from taskbar. Done!”

    One tip: Mailplane has a “Do not disturb” mode. When enabled, it doesn’t show any unread message counters, no Growl notifications do appear and no sound is played. You’ll find it in the Mailplane menu.

  2. Ruben: I missed that option. Thank you for the tip! I really wish there was a standard API for app developers to set a “do not disturb” mode. That would enable people to turn off distractions from all apps at the same time.

  3. “Turning off yellow alert popups…”

    You can turn off the ones concerning with networking by going into the properties for your network connections, and unchecking the two boxes at the bottom (Show icon in notification area when connected + Notify me when this connection has limited or no connectivity”.

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