A couple of weeks ago I felt my productivity had dropped. I felt distracted. Inefficient. Stuck.
I began to monitor my own behavior in order to determine where this feeling was coming from. As it turns out, my gut was right. I was overwhelmed and continually interrupted. Distraction ruled my life.
It turns out that my social media, news, and overall information consumption had spiked. Alerts and notifications ruled my day. Each one filling my mind with one more thing that it needed to process, chew on, and mull over.
And so I took action. I removed the Facebook app from my phone. Instagram, gone. In fact, I ended up going through all of my apps and removing the ones that were not essential, or provide a pragmatic utility that helped me be more productive.
Here are the three steps I took to increase productivity and reduce my mental clutter.
Step 1: Monitor your device usage.
Simply step back and take stock of how you use your devices. Are you disciplined? What apps do you use the most? Are they increasing, or decreasing, your productivity? Are they helping to eliminate your stress, or are they adding to it? Do they take things off your mind, or do they add more to the noise in your head?
After two days of monitoring, I was able to clearly see that social media, news, and other information consumption apps were detrimental to my productivity. They created ad hoc distractions throughout the day. At the same time, I realized that there were additional apps that I could use to significantly increase my productivity.
Take notes. Monitor what you do throughout the day, and be deliberate and honest with yourself about what you really need and what you don’t.
Step 2: Remove the clutter.
Once you have taken stock of your consumption, take action! Remove apps, accounts, and devices that are hurting your productivity. Try to relegate your consumption of certain information to defined periods of time.
For example, check your email, news, and social media at regular intervals when you are sitting down in front of your computer instead of continuously throughout the day.
I did this by:
- Disabling my public email account from my phone.
- Removing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram from my phone.
- Disabling notifications from LinkedIn so that it doesn’t continually draw me in.
- Removing many of my news sources from my phone.
- Getting rid of my iPad altogether. Now that I’ve reverted back to taking paper notes, I found that I really didn’t have a need for it throughout the day.
Step 3: Add back utility.
Now that you have purged your phone of clutter, be deliberate about finding a few ways to reduce the clutter in your head. How can you use technology to get things out of your head and completed?
For the past several months my wife, Teresa, and I have struggled to follow through on keeping our budget up to date and on the top of our minds. Not only did this make our budgeting process less efficient, it created stress and was a drag on our productivity. It seemed like it was always hanging over our heads.
In stepping back, I realized that our budget itself was totally unoptimized. We got rid of our legacy software and moved to a product that is optimized for mobile phones. Now our budget is at our fingertips and with one click of a button I can both see where we are and record a purchase. My budget is with me at decision time so that I can get the clutter out of my head, into my phone, and move on with my life.
Our mobile phones provide a huge productivity boost, if we use them correctly. However, they can provide the exact opposite as well. Are you managing your phone, or is your phone managing you?
Don’t be afraid to take action and remove the apps that are slowing you down. Be deliberate about adding back those that can help move you forward. Taking the time to do so will undoubtedly remove distractions and increase your efficiency.