If there are things on your screen the whole time that could distract you, they probably will!
Reduce distractions by removing anything from your bookmarks bar that you don’t need in your day-to-day work. If you have different roles during the day, some browsers (like Safari) allow you to have sub-folders in your bookmarks bar so you can group by role. For example, I have several bookmarks for twitter, tumblr, facebook etc. in a “Social” folder. This hides those links from being on the top of my browser the whole time, so I am less likely to click on them randomly and waste time. You could also take it one step further and remove your bookmarks bar completely!
This week I’ve been working part-time from my laptop, without my desktop mail program and RSS feed reader. I’m only able to check my e-mails using a clumsy web-based e-mail log in. I also don’t have the usual immediate access to around 20 RSS feeds. Neither do I have any desktop apps that push updates on topics from news and weather to exchange rates and tweets.
Checking my e-mail isn’t as easy as switching windows, because the web mail keeps logging me out after a short period of inactivity. Therefore, I’ve been checking it less often (3-4 times per day).
It’s well documented that there is a productivity gain to be had from not keeping one eye on your incoming e-mail and now I’m experiencing it for myself. If it’s true that it takes 15-20 minutes to truly refocus once you have been distracted, simply checking e-mail, RSS and the rest less often can help you focus when real work needs to be done.
Many freelancers and those who work in small teams (especially those who do not carry out all of their work on the computer), make a point of telling people that e-mails will only be checked or responded to once or twice per day. It’s a different story in the corporate world. I’ve worked for several large businesses in the past. Without exception, all of these companies set up Outlook on their PCs with taskbar notifications when an e-mail arrives.
The hours lost by their employees must surely add up. The phone, skype and instant messaging are great tools for giving time-critical information and getting immediate responses. The problem is, we have been drawn into a working culture where, like the phone or skype, we are expected to be checking our e-mails as they arrive; that’s an unreasonable expectation.
So try turning off any “You’ve got mail” popups and other update notifications, and set aside a few times each day to keep on top of them. You might just feel like you’ve gained an extra hour for real work!