Ugh. I had a short burst of productivity yesterday morning and then I was unproductive for the rest of the day. Days like this aren't just unproductive, they're also demoralizing and frustrating and can lead to more bad days. I live in a world that is both full of distractions and in which it is incredibly easy to indulge in those distractions. Here are the worst offenders:

1. Phone: when I pick up my phone and see notifications, especially banners, I feel an urge to clear them.
2. Internet: it's far too easy to open Chrome and go to my favorite websites - I can go from a moment of weakness to my favorite website in a sequence of 7 easy hotkeys. Some of these websites even feel productive (sort of), like news sites or programming blogs.
3. Messaging: Messenger and especially Slack are a constant source of distraction, for the same reason as my phone - when I see a red bubble, I feel an urge to clear it. Slack is especially bad because I'm a member of 4 very active workspaces, and even though I turn off notifications, there is actually _no way_ to turn off the red dot on Slack when _any_ of these workspaces has a new message, and I can see that red dot _every time_ I alt-tab, which I do constantly.
4. Procrastination: I suspect my brain is spoiled for novelty at the moment. Sometimes, when I'm stuck on a difficult task, I feel something like a mental force field around the thing - in these moments, I go to the Internet, or work through my endless list of notifications, or do things that aren't important. The more I indulge distractions, the shorter my attention span gets - if I get stuck on a bug and go for longer than a few minutes without some stimulation, for example, I can feel the urge rising. This is not an issue when I'm happy, or in a state of flow, or making steady progress; it's particularly bad when I'm sick, or tired, or working on something I'm less enthusiastic about, or when I get stuck frequently, or when I'm doing something hard. I want a way to break the circuit when I get trapped in this pattern and to restore my discipline.
Here are some things I'm going to try, starting now:
1. Phone: Set my phone to black & white. Moved all apps that give me notifications from other people to my second home screen. Prevented any app from making banners, only badges - none of which I can see when I open my phone. I'll go through all of these apps once or twice a day, and all at once.
2. Internet: I bought Cold Turkey Blocker and set a schedule for the eleven 5-hour deep work windows I want every week, so that every website I find distracting is blocked 8am-1pm M-Sat and 2pm-7pm M-F. I've tried this before during Cold Turkey's free trial, but it didn't work - I had nothing to replace the procrastination urge with. (Things I've already done that have been incredibly helpful: buying an actual alarm clock and leaving my computer and phone upstairs at night.)
3. Messaging: Removed all workspaces except Sourceress' from my desktop Slack app and moved them to a Chrome bookmarks folder which I'll open once or twice a day; this way, I can finally get rid of the red bubbles from Slack from every workspace other than the ones from my work. I'm excited about this one. I also removed the Messenger app from my Mac. (Things I've already done that have been moderately helpful: muting all Slack channels except for the two that I actually need to stay on top of).
4. Procrastination: Found a good free meditation app, created 2.5 and 7.5 minute meditation presets that I like, and am keeping my phone and a separate pair of bluetooth headphone by my desk (so I don't have to fiddle with the Bluetooth settings on the pair that's connected to my laptop). When I feel the urge to procrastinate, I'll meditate instead. I'm hopeful that over time this will rewire my brain and improve my ability to power through challenges more consistently. Also, it should help that there are fewer outlets for distraction.
Would appreciate commiserations and/or suggestions if you have them, Facebook hivemind. Everyone deals with this to some degree, I suspect that most of us want to get better, but very few people talk about it.
Update: I made some changes and measured the results.
Comments
Tyler Elliot Bettilyon I recently revoked banners for all apps, and badges for most apps. It has helped me a lot.

I also set my phone to automatically enter do not disturb mode at 10:00pm, and before I go to sleep I turn off WiFi and turn on airplane mode. Airplane mode helps me make a conscious choice about when to reconnect, instead of just habitually unlocking and tapping an app.

Jason Benn: Yeah, revoking banners for all apps and moving any app that would badge(r) me to the second homescreen was great.

Airplane mode is a good idea, but when I tried this and had my phone in my room I would still reach for it in the morning when I'm still sleepy and therefore extra weak... I've learned the hard way that I just can't have electronics in my bedroom at all. Since I started doing this I literally sleep 8 hours a night 100% more often.

Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt: Wow! Thanks for sharing.

Robin Mehta: just turn off your phone and throw it in a backpack. then meditate or go on a walk outside. then give yourself time to start the day and you’ll likely be focused

Jason Benn: Honestly not sleeping near my phone has fixed 90% of the phone-related problems. Beating an Internet addiction while also constantly on my computer because I'm a programmer has proven much harder.

Yaroslav Bulatov: I recommend going to sauna. I don't know if it's the temperature, or just being in a dark room with nothing to do for 30 minutes, but it helps me lower my "interrupt-threshold"

Natalie Afonina: This guy knows what's up. I also find it improves my sleep ~2 fold.


Jason Benn: Interesting. Arram is pushing for our house to buy one for our backyard if you guys want to come by and use it FWIW.

Arram Sabeti: Jason I swear I did not pay them to say this.

Matt Bell I go here all the time http://www.banyasf.com/Manage

Jason Benn: Arram, I'm suspicious. Matt I'd like to go there more - my friend Rob (who commented below) used to go there almost every Sunday as an unwinding ritual, which always appealed to me.

Natalie Afonina: I have a sauna+cold plunge pool at my house in Seattle and every Saturday my family has an open invitation for whomever wants to join the 'Afonina family sauna+🍺' sesh. I want to create the equivalent in SF.

Rob Ryan:: it's a great habit, does get pricey if you get anything other than the ~$40 entry

Yaroslav Bulatov: Finland has saunas in prison, they recognize that saunaless life is cruel and unusual punishment

Jason Benn: Natalie Afonina: I'm sitting with my housemates and we loooove this

Natalie Afonina: Jason Benn: can I be an honorary member of your house so I can get in on this hypothetical future sauna setup?

Ben Mann" I am moving forward with sauna tomorrow! Will let you know how it goes

Jason Benn: Natalie :) Come to Potluck this weekend, we'll be picking our house name!

Arram Sabeti: Natalie Afonina: I hereby dub you an Honorary .

Natalie Afonina: Jason Benn: weren't you choosing names last time I was there? And I'll be in Taiwan! Back from all this travel March 7th

Melissa Carolyn: I’m all about the buying an alarm clock! Not having screens in bed has really helped me sleep better and longer

Jason Benn: Yea I did this a couple months ago (s/o to Michael) and it's already changed my life, I sleep probably 25% more.

Sarah Wright: I resonate with all of that. Do you have a watch that gets notifications from your phone? I feel like I need to turn those off asap on mine, at least what I need to be productive.

Jason Benn: Nah, I'm trying to get away from any notifications getting to me without my consent. If someone urgently needs me they can call my phone twice.

Aline Lerner: Unsubscribe

Jason Benn: Just signed you up for https://sendcatfacts.com

Natalie Afonina: Commiserating. As a product manager it's my job to always be pingable/accessible/available to handle on-off requests, meetings, be point on 🔥 shit storms and intercept any randos mozing over to bother my engineers. Goes against my personal work flow and what was most productive when I was an engineer, but someone's got to be what I call the team's 'notifications umbrella person'.

Natalie Afonina: This is also why I'm a hardcore morning person. The 5:30-9:30am block of time is sacred for getting deep work done.

Jason Benn: I'm sure your umbrella is incredibly appreciated 💪 And I've noticed that a lot of the most productive people I know do the same.

Natalie Afonina: ^how I explain what I do when I join a new team and an engineer asks me 'so...what would you say you do around here?'

Jason Benn: Hahaha.

Guy Davidson: I find that music is also very effective for me to actually get into doing work. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in front of my laptop for half an hour, knowing I should start working on whichever task I currently set for myself, but feel unable to start. …See More

Jason Benn: I listen to white noise and meditation music too, it's definitely helpful. For big/tricky tasks I find that keeping a lab journal of my thoughts is almost as good as talking with someone about it - I'm explaining my thought process to myself as I'm having it - and often the act of writing about it is all it takes to get myself into the right frame of mind.

Steph C: Writing things out & music helped me - particularly listening to instrumentals or strings like 2Cellos. And I put myself under time constraints. For example, I had a writing task recently and I gave myself 30 mins to get as far as possible. Works wonders for me! It wasn't a finished product, but it got me from a blank sheet to something.
Ben Speer I choose not to use a computer or watch TV. It's not possible in many people's lives but it is in mine. Still, my mind looks for distractions and my phone (mini computer) is often the culprit. We're all chasing that dopamine hit. Substitute bad distractions for good ones. Maybe drink more and have more sex? Haha jk. Kinda.

Jason Benn: What's a good distraction? Drinking 30-40 times and/or having sex at work is not very practical

Laurel Elizabeth Toney: Read this whole post in an effort to procrastinate my own work 👍

Michelle Morales: Commiseration here.

For phone, I physically put mine away. I do most of work on laptop and Apple Watch gives me updates for texts/calls and other apps are disabled. Before Apple Watch, I just took my phone off silent and disabled all the alerts except…See More

Jason Benn: Thanks. Bribing myself is interesting.

Definitely. I've had good results with a depth ritual; I used to do these anywhere from 1-5x a week: http://calnewport.com/.../deep-habits-jumpstart-your.../. Nowadays the lab journal I described under Guy's comment works better for me.Manage

Michelle Morales: I’ve not tried journaling; I’ll check that out

Samanta Allyson Jovanovic: Perhaps another distraction, but, I was looking for similar tools last week and stumbled upon this: https://www.ted.com/.../tim_urban_inside_the_mind_of_a...
Thanks for sharing your tips!

Grant Marr: Interested to try Cold Turkey Blocker, thanks for the tip. I've been using Freedom for iOS but it's a little buggy

Priya Mathew: Embrace it! I used to fight it but sometimes you got to follow your energy. The relaxed attention zone can be just as valuable as being in the zone: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/.../j.2162-6057.../abstractManage

Bjorn Commers: I find the pomodoro technique helps me to some degree. I set my phone alarm for 25 minutes (sometimes 47 minutes but that's arbitrary) and then turn off my phone and don't allow myself to do anything other than work until my alarm goes off. Then when m…See More

Jason Benn: I've tried Pomodoro a bunch of times, but could never get into it. It feels too inflexible. What about the times when I hit my 25th minute and want to keep going because I'm in the zone? And on really bad days even going 25 minutes without checking email or Twitter can feel impossible. Vitamin R is interesting for flexible task times under 60 minutes - my CEO swears by it (it's OK).

Bjorn Commers: yeah - I've used pomodoro on-and-off for quite a while and generally don't use it that much - only when I'm really having trouble focusing. If I'm still productive at the 25th minute I just keep going until I find myself on Facebook at which point I start my 5-minute break. Interesting about Vitamin R - never heard of it - although it looks like it's only for Mac and I have a PC - thanks though!
Tiffany Wexler This is a great reflection! The first step to hijacking behavior that doesn't feel restorative or in service of your goals is to carefully (and honestly) consider what is presenting itself as so "delicious" that you're making choices that counter it. And you've done that! +1 to airplane mode during times when you want to tell your mind/body that you're not available for connection or consumption of anything outside the realm of the task at hand. For me, that's ~10pm-8am. This is wind down, self-care time that I can't conflate with last minute task itches or quick communications, which re-stimulate my brain and make it hard to switch into sleep mode. Then, the morning is met with stillness (you don't wake up to notifs) and you start the day feeling restored and creative, not anxious and instantly drained. Meditation and yoga before unleashing the beast by turning off airplane mode have been essential for my ability to maintain focus and flow throughout my work day. When I'm diligent about that cadence, it makes it easier for me to have longer periods of productivity during the day. You start to compartmentalize productivity time from connection time and self-check-in time - which all too easy get mixed up for me when I'm "always available" and I don't give my mind set times to consider each, one at a time. For people who are able to with their jobs, I've heard of only checking email (Slack, messages, etc.) 2-3x per a day has worked well to maintain uninterrupted work time. But I know that's often not possible for most. You're on the path! Thanks for sharing!

Jason Benn: Thanks :) I completely agree with the value of stillness in the morning, and I could definitely stand to incorporate more of your self-care routines into my life. I'm pretty optimistic that replacing my Internet browsing habit with a 2 minute meditation whenever I feel like a break will be good for whipping my brain back into shape.

Desiree Conceicao: I've turned notifications off on all my apps, and my phone is always set to 'do not disturb'. I knock things off my to-do-list first thing in the morning before I go to work, so I don't need to keep checking my phone too often. I do use my phone through the day to check my calendar, but I have that as a widget on one of my screens so I can look at it without getting distracted by anything else. Then I check email once in the morning, and Facebook once in the evening (don't have the app, just the web client) - unless I'm using Facebook to get an answer to a question/advice/help. When I go to procrastinate on my phone I usually catch myself and practice Spanish instead (still a good distraction when I need it, but a constructive one).

Jason Benn: This is awesome, well done. I have Anki, I should use it in the same way.

Michael Lai: Phone - turn it off when you’re working (ideally in another room too). Focus for desktop apps. I just close Slack for long periods of time too. Procrastination is harder but let’s chat about it IRL!

Jason Benn: Actually, the Slack problem felt dramatically better today just by removing other workspaces from my desktop app and checking them in the browser instead! But maybe this will only be true while the Sourceress team is this small.

Jason Benn: And yes, let's definitely talk IRL.

Nupoora Reddy: Deadlines work for me. I have so many at amazon, I don’t have time to look at my phone or pad around in the internet besides for work purposes otherwise I miss my deadlines. And my Type A self can’t handle that! Even with my art, giving myself publicly posted timelines for when I will release my art website helped me stick to it. Lights a fire under your ass 🙂. So give commitments to your mentor or whomever can hold you accountable. But all your other ideas sound beneficial as well!

Jason Benn: Last time I set a deadline for myself and put my pride on the line by telling everyone in my company about it, I had to work like 80 hours to hit it, because the only thing worse than my procrastination habit is my estimating ability. Maybe I should think about how to improve this one too, because this would probably work. Sounds a bit stressful but super productive.
Rob Fitzpatrick Procrastination is the art of getting loads of other, less challenging, sometimes less important. Things done while your subconscious battles thru the barriers of the item that’s sitting on top of your to do list
#embraceprocrastination

Jason Benn: Truth lol. Yesterday I read, summarized, and posted online about a deep learning paper while avoiding doing a task that I was stressing about. So silly

Jason Benn: Thanks for the replies, everyone. And what a pleasure to be suprised by all of these notifications, once, instead of receiving them as a steady trickle throughout the day :) Today was much better. According to RescueTime, it was 87% productive, which is vastly better than the pitiful 45% I got yesterday. But today is also the easiest day because I'm excited by the shiny new thing. It'll be easier to tell what the true effect is in a week or two - I'll post more results then.

Finbarr Taylor: I’d recommend this post: https://qotoqot.com/blog/improving-focus/

Finbarr Taylor: replied · 3 Replies

Finbarr Taylor: Also try clearing all your cookies and browsing data from chrome. That way your muscle memory shortcuts to Fa/tw/re/ whatever you read will stop working.

Finbarr Taylor: I ended up buying qbserve from the author of that post and think it’s awesome. I have the icon showing in the tray and have gradually been increasing the difficulty so that it’s harder to keep is green. I also setup annoying alerts for every 5 minutes of distracting time, and setup positive alerts for 6/7/8/9/10 hours productive time.

Jason Benn: Very cool.

Stacey Sickels Locke Excellent! I use Moment on my phone and it was curbed my phone use.

KK Bracken: I just have daily time or weekly quota I spend on things that are important. one hour writing, at least half an hour of undistracted con work, exercise 5x a week. but, I am very happy in a low paying day job that gives me flexibility, low stress, and freedom. I ain't about that be productive or else life.

KK Bracken: also I carefully and unabashedly curate my social media experience so that it doesn't cause me undue stress and anxiety. that helps a fuckton.

Jason Benn: Love spending X amount of time on things that are important to you - I'm starting to do the same with 1 hour of self improvement every day, and it's been going pretty good.

Michelle Tallman: Staying focused and motivated can be tough, especially with technology so readily available. When I was in school music helped me focus. It drowned out all the background noise and thoughts and allowed me to hone in on the task at hand (usually studying). Considering I was told I had ADD very young, and refused to take meds cuz of how they made me feel, it was such a relief to learn that something as simple as music could make that big of a difference for me.

Unfortunately, these days it's become more of a distraction so I had to find a new trick. I've recently discovered that physical stimulation is surprisingly helpful for me. Not so much as going to the gym, but light forms of exercise and stretching really seem to help me. Even some yoga - the easier poses where I don't have to concentrate to hold them.

What really seems to work the best tho is just taking a walk and getting some fresh air. It sounds silly but even 10 minutes can be enough for me to decompress. Hearing the birds or the leaves, feeling the breeze and the warmth of the sun... all the thoughts running through my head just go away. It makes me happy and I find myself feeling more energetic and motivated. It's funny how that peace can give you such drive.

As far as electronic distractions I can't really help. I keep my phone on vibrate and while I usually look when it goes off, I have no problem ignoring the notifications. I decided long ago that I wouldn't be a slave to the phone, laptop or tv. That didn't require much will power for me. I have a harder time saying no to food.

Jason Benn: I love this, except for the fact that physically standing up out of my chair during moments of weakness is enough of a friction that I wouldn't reliably do this every time. For those times, I'm optimistic that meditation is a good habit replacement.

Jason Benn: For food - uhh, let me get back to you on that one.

Michelle Tallman: My taste buds pretty much rule my life. It's definitely a problem.

Guy Davidson: Did you compare Focus and Cold Turkey Blocker before buying the latter? Or just go on a whim? I saw recommendations for both and I'm trying to figure out which is a better fit.

Jason Benn: The key feature for me is blocking a list of websites during my deep work schedule, and they both have that, so I'd just go with whichever is cheaper.
Stacey Sickels Locke This would make a good blog post Jason Benn:

Jason Benn: I'd like to post it as one! Gotta redesign https://jasonbenn.com/ to be more like e.g., https://michaelkarpeles.com/ first, though.

Justine De Caires: I wrote an entire comment applauding your brilliant idea of meditating instead of procrastinating and how well it fits into my current goals, but then Facebook nuked it all because I dared to add a GIF. Whatever. You rock, JBenn.

Jennifer Kmeans: Following. :)

Teddy T. Rueckert: Awesome insight. Now I need to unfollow the post so I can get that deep work and get out of the distractions :D

Jason Benn: Me too, this post got a little out of hand 😅

Teddy T. Rueckert: You're spitting some truth man. It's all good stuff. Definitely applied your recommendations. It's tough getting off the grid as a real estate agent, but there are moments required for deep work (prospecting, research for clients) that need a notification-less atmosphere. Miss you Jason, hope you still toss an earth biscuit every once in a while, even if it's not at midnight ;)

Jason Benn: Haha! That post gave me nostalgia. Was just throwing around last weekend. Hope you're doing well too man.

Teddy T. Rueckert: Yeeeees. I coach a high school team and I played competitively for VT for 4 years, so I love everything about the sport. I especially love me some disc golf!!!
Muriel MacDonald Greyscale phone has been fun for me for the past week or so. Then again, I’m using it to browse Facebook and respond to your post more or less first thing in the morning so idk.... maybe I need that alarm clock too.

Jason Benn: Do it - plugging my phone/computer in a different room single-handedly solved about 40% of my phone-related distractions (another 10% is not taking it to the bathroom, another 40% is no banners from anything, and the last 10% is moving notification-bubble-producing apps off the first home screen). Grayscale doesn't seem to do anything for me tbh.

Diane Wu: All of the above modifications are great. I especially like #4, in the framework of "resetting". I like to go on runs or just do something completely different, i.e. stop trying to be productive and pushing against the wall. Often when I come back from a run or a coffee walk around the block, I'm refreshed and I am so amped up to make progress on my projects that the distractions aren't even a temptation.

Dave Hoover: I’m extremely vigilant to ensure only the most incredibly critical things will make my phone vibrate or beep, or even put an attention-grabbing red dot on any screen. “Do not disturb" mode is bliss!

Rob Ryan: Try tracking with RescueTime so you have an actual quantitative dependent variable to track

Rob Ryan: hard otherwise to know what’s working

Jason Benn: I've had RescueTime on in the background since March 2016! But I've only fully configured it these last couple days and it's been amazing. I had <5 hours of productive time on Tuesday, and >8 hours on Wednesday. Even more interesting is that during my …See More

Jason Benn: For March, that works out to 8 productive hours for each of the 22 weekdays and 5 productive hours for each of the 5 Saturdays = 201 hours.

Rob Ryan: Jason Benn: I used this measure to do rigid experiments on wakeup-time, diet, project type, and planning strategy

Rob Ryan: Usually I was working weekly with my SF shrink (https://yelp.to/qTKq/5oXCoJmdLK) to review data and sanity check my analysis of what caused what productivityManage

Rob Ryan: also as inputs: ADD medication, smoking weed

Jason Benn: This is fascinating. You're right, it is the perfect dependent variable - I should try experimenting on myself as well. I sleep pretty well and exercise often enough - probably should try getting my diet back to a good place next.

Rob Ryan: Jason Benn: f'sheezy. FWIW the largest (non-drug) effect I was able to measure was morning gym + starting workday before 10am. That got my productivity score firmly above 92 every damn day. I felt so chagrined to learn that morning people might be ... right. :-/


Jason Benn: 😂 take another look at page 8

Jennifer Hinkel: I’ve just stopped trying to be productive when I’m not feeling it, and I go skiing or Sailing instead. Then I come back refreshed. Have been doing this for 2 years and have been more productive on average than ever before. Pushing myself to put in “productive hours" when I’m not in the mindset is counterproductive.

Lauren Streepy Hansen Love this!! I use Headspace (but the full paid version) and love it. I also love the notifications change on your phone. Miss you!