Last Tuesday I posted about being frustrated with my stunted attention span and how demoralizing it is to be unproductive for a whole day. I also posted about a bunch of changes I was going to make to my habits, phone, and computer. I did that. Time to share the results!
According to RescueTime, my productivity score last Tuesday was a pathetic 48. The average over the few weeks before that was around 65. For reference, the RescueTime employee average is around 79, according to their blog. A perfect 100 is really hard to get.
The Tuesday that broke the camel's back
Since I overhauled my work life last Tuesday I've been averaging 75-80. I used to spend an average of 2 hours and 20 minutes a day on distracting websites. Over the last week and a half it's been about 12 minutes a day, including weekends. I've gone entire days without thinking about Trump.
Notice the difference?
The #1 biggest difference maker was removing every inbound distraction that I could. I could have sworn it would be replacing my mental break activity of web browsing with meditation, because I figured I would still want to take frequent brain breaks, but turns out that it's just that context switching is incredibly mentally tiring. Or at least it is for me. The pattern would be that I'd alt-tab past a little red circle on the Slack icon, go into one of my 4 Slack workspaces, write out some response, and then I'd have completely lost the thread of what I was doing, and loading that state back up was exhausting, so I'd take a break, and before I knew it, 30 minutes would be gone. At the end of the day I would reflect on how I was flushing 10% of my life down the drain and how I wished I could be different. It was an incredibly toxic cycle.
The surprise second place difference maker, with probably 40% of the effect size, has been distinguishing my productive hours from the rest with RescueTime. What is measured is managed, as the saying goes, and RescueTime lets you categorize every single activity as "Very Productive", "Productive", "Neutral", "Distracting" or "Very Distracting" and set daily goals for the quantity of each. Watching myself creep towards my goals every day is oddly satisfying. It also incentivizes me to optimize the right thing. One of my flaws is that I tend to get more excited about organizing my work than actually doing it, so I tweaked RescueTime to be pretty strict: only literally coding counts as productive. Any meta-work (like planning, organizing, and reflecting) counts as Neutral, and everything else (news, Reddit, YouTube) is distracting. My daily goals are to hit 6 hours of total productive time with a stretch goal of 8 hours of productive time and to get less than 15 minutes of all distracting time. I've hit 12 out of 18 of those goals since implementing this system, and I'm getting better at it. Part of the reason for this success is that I doubled down over the weekend and put my RescueTime dashboard on a monitor on the wall next to my desk so that all my coworkers can see it. Sourceress peeps know I struggle with this, by the way, I was emphatic when telling them that I'm not trying to set a weird new office culture, that I'm just doing this because I could use the help being held accountable.
I've struggled on and off with productivity for pretty much my whole life. When Cal Newport wrote about me in Deep Work, he highlighted the two month period before Dev Bootcamp when I was learning to code by reading textbooks and making flashcards with paper and pen - I literally had to do that, because if I let myself near a computer, I would get distracted and risk losing my day. I've tried other systems before and failed to keep them up so take this with a grain of salt. My housemate Josh, who is by far the most productive person I've ever met, said that one of his many tricks is to tweak his system every week so that he's always excited about some new productivity thing.
My score today
"Once you identify a problem, don't tolerate it. Tolerating a problem has the same consequences as failing to identify it. Whether you tolerate it because you believe it cannot be solved, because you don't care enough to solve it, or because you can't muster enough of whatever it takes to solve it, if you don't have the will to succeed, then your situation is hopeless." I had slipped into the mistake of thinking that procrastination is something that I'd never be able to fix and that because of the Internet and my phone I'd always have to be at least a little bit distracted. One of the positive impacts of moving into The Archive - 283 Dolores St is that being surrounded by very productive people has convinced me that this is possible to fix.
Discussion on this post:
Irina Gor You sold me at -not thinking about Trump-
Rob Ryan Great work! I have a theory for you; let’s chat live sometime?
Jason Benn Would love to. I'll text you.
Daniel Stefanus This is is amazing. I am going to study this intensely tomorrow and use it! Thanks Jason!
Jason Benn No problem 🙂
Helen Lurie Do you use the free or paid version? Jason Benn
Jason Benn Paid - I've been using their API to fetch my total productive hours for the day and add that number to my commit messages. It helps me get better at estimating how long it takes me to do things.
Jason Benn Maybe. I'm experimenting.
Nick Modly I'm going to have to try this. For me it always hits when I have to recompile my code, and so I've got 5 minutes to wait, and whatever I end up filling it with ends up distracting me for 20-30 minutes instead.
Josh Franklin I love reading your posts Jason. Fascinating.
I really relate to losing hours of my working day productivity with distractions, especially social media. Thank you for sharing your system for change. Need to implement something similar. Thanks for inspiring. Oh, and the irony that I’m on Facebook writing this is not lost on me 😬🙄
Jason Benn Hahahaaa. Yup. Me too.
Aaron Dufall You should put these posts out as a series of blog posts. It would suck for them to just get lost in the newsfeed
Katherine Champagne Co-sign, I saved your first one because so many people posted good tips.
Daniel Bowen I definitely suffer from distractions as well. I’m going to give your methods a try. Thanks a ton for sharing!