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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

The Super Simple Trick That Made My Mornings Way More Productive

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I excel at getting distracted. Or, more accurately, I excel at turning, “Let me just check what the weather’s going to be this morning” into a 45-minute deep dive into old photos on my phone, followed by giving into the urge to clean out my inbox, followed by a top-to-bottom Instagram scroll.

This habit meant that I began my workdays technically checking my email, but getting off track from my schedule pretty much immediately. Because after I went through all the important messages, I’d see a text on my phone, which would then lead me to checking out a restaurant’s menu, which would remind me that I meant to respond to a friend last night. Before I knew it, I’d spent 30 minutes checking approximately nothing off my to-do list. And that meant I’d be at the office later in the evening trying to get through everything.

So, last year I started grounding myself—yes, high-school-style—for the first two hours of each day: I take away my own phone because I cannot be trusted to use it wisely. Literally, I put it in my coat pocket each morning when I arrive at the office, hang my coat on a rack, and sit at my desk, several feet away from said rack. No, it’s not locked up, but the fact that I’d have to stand up and walk to get it to check for a possible text or notification makes it far less appealing to look at. After all, more often than not, I’m not receiving anything all that exciting in the AM hours.

Then, because I’m my own strictest parent, I don’t log into my email either, work or personal. I live on the assumption that if there’s a true emergency, I’ll find out—via our internal chat or via a real live human telling me. Dangerous, but in the year that I’ve been doing this, I’ve missed zero urgent emails. (Although quick caveat: I not only happen to have a job where disasters don’t pop up often, but The Muse also embraces Slack hard, so I understand why this wouldn’t be an option for everyone.)

While this isn’t a groundbreaking productivity hack, it’s the first one that’s truly worked for me. No trendy apps or browser blockers managed to keep me on track. But now, not only do I power through my morning tasks (which happen to be the most vital for my day), but I also look forward to finishing so that I can look at my phone and log into Gchat. And yes, while this is purely anecdotal evidence on my end, Tom Demarco, author of Peopleware: Productive Products and Team backs up my experience, stating in his book that it can take up to 15 minutes to regain the focus you had before an interruption. 15 minutes every time you look down at that tiny screen—I don’t have time for that, and neither do you.

But, if putting your phone away and not checking your email isn’t an option, it doesn’t mean you just have to give in to your impulses. Instead, start where I did and consider downloading one of these apps designed to help you focus better, or testing out the one tab strategy, trying the Pomodoro technique, or even just turning off all notifications. I promise you that once you find a distraction-blocking method that makes sense for you, you’ll get all the work done. Two hours of solid head-down, headphones-on time beats eight hours of multi-tasking any day of the week.

Planning to give “grounding yourself” a try? Tweet me and let me know. Just don’t expect a response back before 10:30 AM.

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