Lock down the distractions! Screen time productivity hacks to help you concentrate
In a world of home offices, how do you stay focused and cut distractions? As a long-term computer ghoul, I feel somewhat qualified on the subject. This guide explains how to improve onscreen productivity and smite the inner procrastinator.
- Work in ‘chunks’ with a Pomodoro timer
- Separate calls/emails from everyday work
- Censor your web browser
- Shut everything but the apps you need
- Stop onscreen notifications
- Put your phone away
- Focus your music
- Mist your face
Things to splash out on
- Clip on desk fans
- Noise-cancelling headphones
- Blue light blocking computer glasses
- Ergonomic office equipment
Screen time concentration habits
1 Work in chunks, one task at a time
Many have praised the Pomodoro method aka Tomato Timer. It’s an age old productivity hack that involves:
- 25 minutes of concentrated work
- 5 minutes break
The cycle is repeated 3 or 4 times, then rewarded with a longer break for lunch or Morris dancing.
It only takes a few cycles to develop a dutiful, Pavlovian response to these cycles. Combined with the steps below, the Pomodoro method splits your day into efficient and manageable chunks.
2 Treat calls and emails as a self-contained task
Taken as they come, emails wreck havoc on productivity. Studies consistently show that the average office worker receives dozens of emails a day. Dozens! Some require your attention, others go to the bin, but all wobble your concentration.
If the Pomodoro method is to work, it must be done on a strict task-by-task basis. Emails should be treated as their own chunk, to be dealt with in one fell swoop rather than measly pieces.
The same goes for phone calls. Unless you have an extraordinary need to answer calls immediately, make use of voicemail and the ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature.
3 Censor your browser from distractions
We’ve all caught ourselves blithely scrolling through Facebook. Much as we kid ourselves that we have the willpower, we return to unproductive websites again and again. It’s a bad habit we’re better off without.
The brutal but best way to avoid distracting websites is to censor them entirely. Make it impossible to access them during working hours. Unless you’re a social media marketer, this will do wonders to your productivity.
How to block distracting websites
Desktop apps like Focus (Mac) or FocusMe (Windows) take control of your browser and stop you visiting unwanted websites during working hours. Install this on your computer and add EVERYTHING that’s not directly related to work:
- Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
- YouTube and Vimeo
- News websites
- Online forums
Be unforgiving. The procrastinator is a cunning foe; don’t give them an inch. The computer of 9-5 should be a beige and brow-beaten assistant, programmed to help with work and nothing else.
4 Only open the apps you are using
Today’s computers are too powerful for their own good. Dozens (dozens!) of idle apps do little to streamline your productivity. Like social networks, it’s easy to flick back and forth between programmes instead of focusing on the task at hand.
Before you begin a chunk of work, close down ALL OTHER APPS. Hum the Imperial March as you do it; give the process a sense of gravitas. When you open Excel to do your number crunching, those spreadsheets will feel extra meaningful.
5 Stop onscreen notifications
Tweets, slack messages, newsletters… it’s nice to be alerted, but not when you’re in the zone. Studies have shown it can take up to 25 minutes to recover from distractions. Your experiences may differ, but one can’t deny that notifications are a huge thorn to productivity.
Take meaningful steps to shut down computer notifications. Dive into your settings and disable them in the operating system and in the browser. Now let’s turn our attention to the worst notification culprit of all…
6 Put your phone away
Airplane mode isn’t enough. The procrastinator is a master sneak, able to unlock a phone and cycle through 2 or 3 WhatsApp threads before its host realises what’s happening.
Lock your phone out of arm’s reach. Do not retrieve it unless you are having a genuine break. I can’t tell you how many times I still reach absent-mindedly for my phone.
7 Focus your listening
Look for music that aids concentration – Spotify have dozens of playlists dedicated to focus and study sessions. You’d be surprised at how effective this abstract mode of listening can be.
For a deep dive into focus music, check out Brain.fm. Their science-driven approach boasts of…wait for it… ‘strong neural phase locking’. They offer a 10 hour free trial so you can test these claims yourself. Let me know how that goes.
8 Mist your face
I keep a spray bottle full of water by the desk. When I need to perk up, I’ll give my face a quick spritz. This is magic when you’re about to begin a demanding task.
Things to splash out on
1 Sweet, sweet desk fans
Last year I bought a £15 clip on desk fan. As the summer got hotter the fan and I became inseparable. I clipped it to my computer, took it to bed, even made use of it at weddings. Seriously, get yourself a portable desk fan. Combined with the spray bottle above, it makes for concentration heaven.
2 Noise cancelling headphones
I was late to the scene on this, but boy was it worth it. If you’re able, invest in some noise cancelling headphones. There is something ceremonial to putting on a big pair of mufflers and entering a vacuum of study. Combined with the thudding beats described above, they work wonders on your focus.
3 Blue light blocking glasses
These inexpensive lenses give the screen a warm, yellowy look, not unlike your phone’s ‘night mode’. If you spend hours staring at a bright screen, computer glasses are undeniably useful. I wear mine religiously, taking them off only for Zoom calls to avoid being mistaken for Bono. Since I began wearing them, I’ve noticed a marked reduction in fatigue, headaches and general eye strain.
4 Ergonomic office equipment
Many have found themselves working from home without a proper workspace. The dip in comfort is in itself a distraction, not to mention the adverse effects on posture and physical well-being.
If your budget allows, consider upgrading your office to improve your lower back and comfort. Examples include:
- Lumbar cushion for your office chair
- Balance board to improve posture
- Gel wrist rest to minimise strain/RSI
- Standing desk (read my experience here)
That just about covers it. Like I said, these tips are based on my personal attempts to boost desk time efficiency. Got anything to add? Let me know!