Eliminate distractions – become more switched on by switching off

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The past week, I’ve begun leaving my phone in the kitchen at night. It’s no longer by my bedside table. This would have been unthinkable a month ago.

It’s changed my life.

Or rather, my life changed…and this is a result.

I love my phone. I’m one of those people who gets nervous when I leave a room without my phone. I like to think of myself as a functioning addict. It’s not good. Something had to change.

I needed to remove the addition, but I didn’t know how. I typically wake up earlier than my alarm and grab my phone. I check email. Check the news. Browse Facebook. The regular trash that does no one any good at the beginning of the day.

About a month ago, I decided on a substitution. I bought a Kindle.

If I’m going to wake early and I want to read…why not read instead of browse? Why not consume something useful rather than junk food for the brain?

The first book I bought was Deep Work. Great book. Highly recommend it. In there, he references How to Break Up With Your Phone. That one came next.

I knew the problems with phone addiction. I’d even been tracking my time in a journal. It’s too embarrassing to tell you the numbers. While reading How to Break Up With Your Phone, I actually internalized the problem. It’s the difference between knowing in your head and knowing in your heart.

Slowly I began the process.

I left my phone in my bag at work. No more accidentally picking it up “just to check” on something.

If that was good, what else could I do?

Next, I closed out of email. Historically, I’ve kept my email open all day long. It was in a browser window that’s pinned open. I have it right next to my calendar, as well as a couple of other task management tools.

Now I have that tab closed. I still check email multiple times a day, but I have to want to check it now. I can’t mindlessly click a tab and see that, yep, the emails I checked five minutes ago are still there.

Back at home, I put the Kindle next to my bed. The phone was still there, but physically, it was just a bit further away than my Kindle. Waking up, I now reach for the Kindle. It’s a bit harder to dig into a book at 6am than to browse Facebook, but I was going to give it a shot.

I got through two other books that continued to reinforce this new behavior.

The first one was The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck. Great book. Highly recommended.

The point of the book is to pick the stuff that matters. You care about too many things. Find the things that actually matter and let the rest slide.

The next book I read while waking up was Measure What Matters. Another fascinating book with a very different style. The point of that book is to pick the stuff that matters. You care about too many things. Find the things that actually matter and let the rest slide.  

Measure What Matters is how to run a business. The Subtle Art… is about how to run your life. Both told me to say “no” to more things. And the only way to say “no” is to know what to say “yes” to.

My phone? For the most part…it’s a big fat “no”. When I need to call my wife, then of course it’s a “yes”.

Checking emails 50 times a day? No.

Digging into deep feature design? Yes.

Spending time deciding on my quarterly objectives? Big Yes.  

You may be asking yourself: “This all sounds great Trevor, but how does this have anything to do with Tasktop?”

Happy you asked. Two ways really.

First, I feel this is making me a better employee. I’m more focused. I know in my heart (not just in my mind) that I need to say “no” more so that I can say “yes” to the things that really matter. It’s not a new concept. A lot of this is discussed in Making Work Visible (written by Dominica DeGrandis, our Director of Digital Transformation).

The second way this relates to Tasktop is that the process changes and productivity improvements I’m attempting at a personal level are analogous to what our customers are trying to do at an enterprise level.

What can we do to eliminate distractions?

What really matters?

What really moves the needle and how do we know what’s really the most important thing to do next?

Where are the bottlenecks to productivity?

I feel the biggest lesson here is that there’s no one thing. It required a mind shift on my part. I had to decide to go down this path after realizing I’d been doing the wrong thing for too long. I had to want to change. I sound like I’m talking about a 12-step program. I’m still not done. I have some other habits I’m still contemplating.

Should I set an away message on my email for a day when I need to get stuff done? I talked about that in my previous post. Or do I still think I’m too important to step away? That sounds like hubris to me.

Do I actually want to delete apps on my phone?

Do I block off more calendar time to dig deeper into work? Or would I rather feel more useful by jumping from 30 min meeting to 30 min meeting?

Do I want to spend more time working away from the office?

How much courage do I have to change the way I work?

How much do you?