Lesson #64: Two Ways to Do a Better Job

by Rachel on January 11, 2011

Yesterday was my first day of work and it. Was. Wonderful!!! Six straight hours of brainstorming? Making plans for South by Southwest? A to-do list that involves Twitter? I’ll take it!

One of the best things about my day was the amount of focus that was involved. I barely moved the entire day, because I was so into the discussions we were having. I wasn’t stopping every five minutes to “just Google it real quick.” I wasn’t checking my phone. I was actually working.

And I actually wasn’t just doing that because it was my first day. In the past year, I’ve really tried to stop multitasking. I’ve made a deal with myself that I will not check e-mail or Reader or any Web sites whenever I just don’t feel like working anymore; I let myself take a few “tech breaks” at set points throughout the day, but other than that, everything stays shut off.

In the spirit of new jobs, new semesters, or simply just the new year, let’s talk about staying focused.

Still with me? Or were you off Googling South by Southwest?

I get it. I know that it’s really hard not to follow links and to Google terms you don’t know and I know it takes willpower to close your e-mail. (But seriously. Close. Your. E-mail. Responding to e-mail creates more e-mail. So stop responding so quickly to everything unless it’s urgent. And stop responding to “Thanks!” with “Anytime!” so that the sender replies “Have a great weekend!” We were done at “Thanks!” End. It. Now.)

If you aren’t feeling strong in the fight against endless — mindless — distractions, here are two simple ways to help you just say “shhhhhh” while you’re working.

…to access the web, that is! If you can’t disconnect from the Internet completely because you need it for work, just create a little tech barrier with something like LeechBlock. This Firefox add-on lets you block certain sites, either all the time, or just during certain times. Tools like this (and there are many others!) are so useful. While I love social media, and checking Facebook is now, technically, my job, I think it’s a huge waste of time for many people.

(I also recommend using LeechBlock to set a bedtime on certain Web sites. Seriously, what are you doing on Facebook at 11:30 PM on a Tuesday night? Nothing important happens on Facebook after 10 PM. Networking? No. You’re not. You’re most likely hate-following or stalking your ex, which means you’re cutting into time you could be sleeping, so that you’d get up feeling refreshed and ready to actually network on the job tomorrow. Whatever you’re doing, you’re definitely giving yourself a reason to complain that you’re tired and “just can’t get up in the morning to work out.” A really shitty reason, but a reason all the same.)

Moving right along…

I cannot focus at work if I have a messy desktop (i.e., a cluttered workstation) or a stimulating desktop (i.e., a computer screen filled with vacation snap shots). The solution to the former is to go to the container store and to at least hide your clutter in cute plastic boxes; the solution to the latter is…Simple Desktops.

It’s exactly what it sounds like! And the desktops are perfect for keeping me focused and calm while I work, without being super cheesy. Here are some that I like!

They look great on a big screen, but also make a 13 inch laptop look way bigger (so be sure to pass them along to anyone you know with a size complex). There are a ton of designs to choose from, so be sure to check out the site for more options.

You know how you can feel really worn out on a Saturday night because you went out for breakfast, ran a bunch of errands, went to the mall, and then worked out? Or you can also feel really tired because you lay in bed all day watching videos on YouTube? It’s the same with feeling worn out at the end of a day of work. You can either feel worn out because you worked hard, faced challenges head-on, and focused on everything you did. Or you can feel super lethargic and unable to budge from the couch because you spent a 10-hour day — even though you’re only being paid for eight, because your job could be done in eight hours a day — multitasking. And your multiple tasks were “Outlook”…and “Facebook.”

Don’t work harder by making your brain juggle a YouTube video and a Power Point Presentation and a few blogs you check. Just work better by doing the work that’s in front of you, and only that.

Anyone with superhuman focus have good tips for staying distraction-free?

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michele @ Healthy Cultivations January 11, 2011 at 9:11 am

One of my tips — may seem a little wacky but I swear it’s amazing for productivity. I have a little timer (with the annoying beep disabled) that I set for 30 minutes, and I try to see just how much I can get done in the next 30 minutes. Sometimes, it’s a lot. Sometimes, it’s not. But it’s 30 minutes to focus… without distraction.

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2 Rachel January 11, 2011 at 8:48 pm

That is a really good tip! Little things like that help. I also use a timer sometimes to remind me to take a break at a certain point!

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3 Kat January 11, 2011 at 9:16 am

You’re very right – multi-tasking can make a simple task take all day and seem impossible. Seems to be harder when your job includes all things web!

I try and use distracting websites to reward myself for getting things done that I don’t like doing.

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4 Val @ Balancing Val January 11, 2011 at 9:17 am

I get distracted at my job because I don’t really find any personal satisfaction in it. It’s so easy to get lost in blogs or email when THEY become more important.

However, in school . . . There is none of that!

I am totally engaged in what I’m doing, Even if its a long lecture about raw milk or organics . . .

Something that some people would otherwise find boring, I don’t!

Just goes to show that you really need to have passion for your work too.

That’s my distraction free tip . . . PASSION! :)

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5 Allison @ Happy Tales January 11, 2011 at 11:05 am

You hit the nail on the head… passion is SO important!

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6 Rachel January 11, 2011 at 8:48 pm

I completely agree! Focusing isn’t nearly as hard when you’re loving what you’re doing. Unfortunately for most people, most of the time…that just isn’t the case.

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7 Chase @ The Chase Project January 11, 2011 at 9:19 am

This is super true. The other day I was talking to friends on the weekend and talked about how FB and twitter and gmail and google reader and wordpess and blogger are all blocked at work. They said, “WOW! You must get so much done at work!” and I do, haha! I believe in commiting to being present in whatever you’re doing right then and there. If you’re at your parents house, spend time with them. If you’re at work, work. If you’re reading a book, read the book, don’t go check your phone every 5 minutes. Great post, Rachel!

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8 Mel January 11, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Ha, when they blocked those sites at my work, I think people wasted more time trying to find proxy sites to get their facebook/twitter/flickr fix.

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9 Leah (Nutritionista) January 11, 2011 at 9:20 am

I love those desktops! I can’t enlarge them, so where did you find them?? I need a new one for my work comp!

I’m SO glad you love your new job — My new job is also fabulous, and I do feel like I WORK so much harder (in a good way). It’s such a good feeling!

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10 Rachel January 11, 2011 at 10:24 am

Just SimpleDesktops.com!

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11 Leah (Nutritionista) January 11, 2011 at 10:51 am

Bahahaha, you totally included the link! I must be too distracted.

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12 Caitlin January 11, 2011 at 9:22 am

I’m really loving this one, Rachel. I am guilty of the multi-task. I’ve always got multiple windows open on my browser, chatting in at least one, monitoring Tweetdeck as it refreshes every few minutes. I need to stop and focus on the task at hand! I’ve actually heard and read studies at how UNproductive multi-tasking actually is! I love “Nothing good happens on Facebook after 10.” Can we please make that into a bumper sticker??

Also South by Southwest? YES please.

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13 Rachel January 11, 2011 at 10:23 am

The new job should bring me to Austin for SXSW for SURE, but also more than that — the marketing firm we work with is based there so I might get sent there when they need me!

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14 shelby January 11, 2011 at 9:22 am

Lately I’ve been making really detailed to-do lists. Like, really detailed…instead of just “respond to emails” I write out each one that I need to respond to and give it its own little check box. Checking those boxes is satisfying. I also make things like “lunch” and “run” tasks on the list. That way I can work them in to a schedule or plan for the day and stick to it, instead of sitting here, halfheartedly working, while thinking “I should run today” or wondering what to have for lunch.

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15 Rachel January 11, 2011 at 8:49 pm

I do that too! Sometimes, if I do something that I forgot to put on my to-do list, I put it on there after, just so I can cross it off. Otherwise, what if someone asks me what I did all day and I forget that one?!

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16 Jen January 11, 2011 at 9:22 am

My favourite part of this that actually made me ‘HA!’ out loud…. ‘Hate following or stalking your ex.’ – You make a valid point though! : )

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17 Kaleigh January 11, 2011 at 9:27 am

Does watching old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix while I work from home count as multitasking? Ooops….

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18 Kayla @ Let's Live Wholesome January 11, 2011 at 9:37 am

I guess this all takes self control, huh? I just feel some sort of pressure or obligation to respond to people’s emails and texts. Maybe because it makes me feel important? And I like feeling important! Who doesn’t?

Thanks for this. I need to learn to let go of all the distractions in life. My friend once told me to ‘stop texting and start living’.

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19 Katie January 11, 2011 at 9:38 am

I like using the online stopwatch site if I’m having an unmotivated day. I’ll set it for 45 minutes or something and focus on writing a report or making my lab notebook up-to-date and I won’t check my phone or any social media or websites. Then give myself a 5 minute break. In my mind I used to take “5 minute” breaks but it’s a lot shorter when I actually time it. To-do lists to check off are good to keep on task too since it’s easy to get into the mindset that all the smaller tasks can just be done “tomorrow.”

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20 Natalie @ Scarlett Notions January 11, 2011 at 9:56 am

“Nothing important happens on Facebook after 10 PM.” So, so true!

I can’t use this at work, but one thing that let’s me concentrate at home is brown noise: http://www.simplynoise.com.

Now, I need to stop my blog reading and get to work!

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21 Rachel January 11, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Oh thank you for sharing this site! This is great!

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22 erin January 11, 2011 at 9:58 am

i’m fairly good at multi tasking. but really – when i’m super busy, I don’t even think about going on the web. work keeps me that busy.

I am so jealous that you’re working for SXSW. we were actually going to try to go this year, but alas, he got laid off in July, and hasn’t been able to find work since. So we can’t go. it’s one of those events we’ve been wanting to go to for the last few years!

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23 Sarah January 11, 2011 at 10:02 am

Congrats on the new job! Before you know it, you will be referring to South by Southwest as SXSW or South by. March is a busy month for me and I won’t be able to make it, but I hope to get back there in 2012. Hopefully you get to go?! Film or Music or both?

I loved the nothing important happens on facebook after 10 PM. So true. This year, I turned off the new e-mail notifications on my phone. I am lucky my job doesn’t require me to check e-mail after work, I only had notifications for my personal e-mail. And did I really need to check it every time I got a new e-mail? No.

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24 Rachel January 11, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Well I would have said SXSW but I didn’t want to be all jargon-heavy. :)

I am definitely going (as far as I know) because my company is hosting a party! But I know NO details other than that!

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25 Bethany @Bridezilla Bakes January 11, 2011 at 10:10 am

Cool! I just wrote about this as part of a series on productivity!

As I said in my post, my best advice is to just… do what you are supposed to be doing. The thing about facebooking, emailing, etc. at work is that it’s not like you are *really* getting good “friend” time in — you’re not really connecting with people, you’re not really focusing on the emails that you’re shooting out under the table… and if you’re also not working, you’re pretty much doing nothing.

My philosophy is, if I’m sitting at my desk, I might as well be working. Doing anything else is just wasting time.

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26 Allison @ Happy Tales January 11, 2011 at 11:07 am

You are so right on the money with your tips. Multi-tasking is such a time waster, and an energy-drain… since it later can create stress since you didn’t get the work you set out to do finished! Thanks for the tips on those websites :)

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27 Nicole January 11, 2011 at 11:23 am

We’re working on getting things together for South by Southwest too. I’d love to meet up for a drink if the stars align …

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28 Rachel January 11, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Most definitely!

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29 Aj January 11, 2011 at 11:48 am

Sooo true. I find that the parts of my job that take me away from my desk and interacting with people are easy for me and what I love about my job. It’s the desk work (and the studying for this dreaded exam) that make distractions so tempting. I need to block my reader and facebook and wordpress and…. except during lunch. Thanks for the reminder!

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30 Teri [a foodie stays fit] January 11, 2011 at 11:51 am

this was JUST the post I needed. I’m working on an article for a magazine for the first time today and keep taking little breaks at the end of each paragraph to check my email and to read “just one blog.” And I’m likely starting a new job next week that will require a LOT more focus than my last one, so I need to get back in the hard worker mindset. Thank you for this! And now, I will close all my windows except my Google Doc one and get back to work.

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31 Angela January 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Very good post. I have instituted a rule that I must log off from my laptop, phone, etc. on Sundays from noon to seven. It has been hard – I watch the clock. But I get SO much more done! And I RELAX.

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32 Jasmine January 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Such good ideas! I checked out LeechBlock, but it only seems to work for Firefox. I’ve been trolling around for a good one for IE. If anyone knows of a good one, do let me know! THANKS!

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33 Rachel January 11, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Wait, you use IE and not Firefox? Girrrrl….you more mixed up than a milkshake.

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34 Jasmine January 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm

…and just as sweet.

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35 Rachel January 12, 2011 at 8:59 am

<3

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36 Alexa @ The Girl In Chucks January 11, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I won’t lie.

I yelled at myself. 14 times yesterday for checking Facebook/Twitter/Blogs/iPhone/Gmail during work.

I have a really difficult time because my job isn’t particularly interesting, especially during off season and on the night shift. It was just me there in the office and it’s just really easy to get sidetracked or laze out when there’s no one watching.

It’s even worse when it is your “friday”. That shift was the only thing standing between me and three days off….it could not go by fast enough.

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37 Michelle @ Give Me the Almond Butter January 11, 2011 at 1:52 pm

I love the idea of turning off facebook. It would be so great to do that while I’m in the library. Like as soon as my computer steps into the library or into a lecture, facebook turns off.

I agree that focusing only on one thing at a time is definitely necessary. The only multi-tasking I try to allow myself to do is laundry & homework at the same time. Put the load it, work on homework, put the load in the dryer (which provides a great homework break), homework, take the load out… etc. I have a problem with multitasking on the computer. I’ll have homework, blogs, facebook and my to-do list on my computer all up while catching up on episodes of Pretty Little Liars or listening to acapella music and wishing I was being serenaded by the boys singing it.

Okay. I so have problems focusing.

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38 angela January 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm

I don’t have a job outside of the house, but I find even just household tasks like cleaning and such go so much faster if I focus and just get them done. You can usually tell I’m getting things done if you haven’t heard from me in hours. Definitely a skill I need more work on, though. ;)

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39 Bree January 11, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I might have to try LeechBlock.

I know not every job lends itself to this, but putting on headphones and listening to music when I need to get stuff done at work and blocking out co-workers, the phone ringing (not for me anyway), and other noise makers really helps. The act of putting on the headphones also puts me in the zone and for some reason just having them on increases focus.

Speaking of jobs, after commenting on your post last week about your new job and being out of work, I am happy to report that I start a new job tomorrow. Keep the job tips coming now that I need them again :)

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40 Rachel January 11, 2011 at 8:56 pm

That’s awesome!! Congrats and good luck!

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41 Clare @ Fitting It All In January 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm

OOoh I so need to block website on my work computer. I’m constantly checkin email, facebook, blogs. It’s awful! I tell myself that these quick breaks actually make me more productive, but I somehow doubt it.
Your new job sounds great!

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42 Salah (My Healthiest LIfestyle) January 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I get distracted so easily. BEst thing to do is get my work done fast so I can play the rest of the time I’m at work :-)

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43 Ariel January 11, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Thanks for these tips. Just what I needed to read as I’m trying to get motivated for the new semester.

Something that helps me be more productive is to break up large tasks into smaller, discrete ones. For example, I’m learning a new programming language. Instead of saying that today I am going to work on learning it, I plan to work on learning a specific facet (say, getting my practice program to respond to key presses). Working towards these types of concrete goals keep me more focused on the task at hand.

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44 Lauren January 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm

“stop responding to “Thanks!” with “Anytime!” so that the sender replies “Have a great weekend!” We were done at “Thanks!” End. It. Now.”

THANK YOU! Can I send this to everyone in my office, please? Because there’s only 10 of us but somehow my coworkers think it’s acceptable to have entire conversations over email. (Plus I’m physically unable to check my email when that little envelope appears in the corner of my screen.)

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45 Bobby @ boymeetscake January 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm

iPod + Kelis’ “Caught Out There” re-attracts my distractions at work.

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46 Rachel January 11, 2011 at 8:57 pm

I love Kelis.

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47 Marissa January 11, 2011 at 3:55 pm

This (http://laughingsquid.com/the-bermuda-triangle-of-productivity/) is my background. When I see it I feel like my computer is warning me to not get distracted so easily. Also, it’s funny.

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48 whitney January 11, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I cannot have technology distractions while I am work. In fact, unless it comes as an alert to my phone, I do not even consider touching any “non-work” items when I’m at the office.

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49 Lori January 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Huh. In my world, your “multi-tasking” is my “procrastination.” A friend of mine and I suffer greatly from it and we talk about doing something about it but…funny, we never do. Behold! Our email conversation today:

Her: Hey, did you read Rachel Wilkerson today?
Me: LOL Yes. *hangs head in shame*
Her: Lol, I think we should both be hanging our heads after that one.

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50 allison marie January 11, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Your new job sounds amazing! I’m totally going to follow your advice and enable one of those blockers on my work computer – I just got a new job. At my old job, I was always online (mostly because I hated it) but I’m worried old habits will die hard, and I def. don’t want to start the new job off on a bad foot.

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51 maria @ Chasing the Now January 11, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Ah! Thanks so much for the LeechBlocker link. I’m at home studying during the day and there are just too many distractions available. Downloading it now.

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52 Kelsey January 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Thanks for the sweet website recommendation! I’m going to it right now.

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53 Nikki Kingery October 10, 2011 at 7:51 am

So glad I stumbled across this one again. Such a good reminder! You’re so right about the “end of day feeling” and what you accomplished when it’s all said and done. I’m at work right now, and will gladly get back to it now so I can feel good about what I’m doing here to make things easier for my days ahead!

Have a great day Rachel!

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