The No-Distractions Productivity Experiment

Yesterday I sat down and designed, developed, and wrote content for this new site. If you work on the web, or if you’ve hired a web designer before, you know this is crazy talk. But it happened.

All things considered, I spent about ten hours on it, broken up by a trip to the gym, lunch, and dinner. This is a very simple site, too, which definitely played a big part in the quick turnaround.

I don’t like admitting that I set a New Year’s resolution, because I’m painfully aware of how many January 1 promises I’ve made and immediately broken. However, this site has been on my back burner for months now, and between the time off for the holiday, my back-logged desire to work on it, and the general “let’s do everything” energy that accompanies a perceived fresh start, I finally built up enough momentum to start.

Taking a web project from concept to launch in one day is very, very rare, so I kind of surprised myself by pulling it off.

I loaded the new files up on the server and flipped the switch with a kind of fuck-yeah-I’m-unstoppable feeling.

It got me thinking about how I’ve historically handled momentum, and how it usually starts an upswing in productivity, followed by frustration when I can’t keep up the heroic pace I’ve set for myself.

No Distractions

Most of the reason I was able to finish this site in such a short time frame is that I shut off all distractions: no email, no phone calls, no chat; just headphones, coffee, and good ol’ blood-and-sawdust resolve.

This isn’t my usual state of affairs. In fact, I only pulled it off because it was a holiday and I should have been taking time off in the first place.

On a normal day, tuning out distractions would mean grumpy clients, stalled contractors, lost leads, and an ever-growing todo list — all of which add up to outweigh the benefits of how much work gets done.

Finding a Balance

Routine is hard for me. I instinctively buck authority, even if the rules are self-imposed.

My default mode is very freeform; I drive Ali nuts by constantly improvising and telling her, “Relax. Life is jazz.

However, seeing how much I was able to accomplish with all the distractions turned off, I wonder how effective I could be if I allocated one or two days a week as “no distractions” days, during which I would cut off communications and just get a big chunk of work done.

I’ve toyed with the idea before, but I’ve never fully implemented it.

The Experiment

Next Tuesday, I’m going to have a distraction-free day. It’s going on my calendar. My team will be notified. An autoresponder will be set on my email.

Serious business.

If the experiment works, I should be able to focus on and — hopefully — complete one or two large tasks.

It should also have the added benefit of making me feel less guilty if I spend the days before and after buried in email or on the phone, which is a common source of stress for me.

Have you tried this split style of working before? Any tips to help me get it right the first time? Let me know in the Facebook discussion.

UPDATE: The experiment went well, and I’ve posted the results for review. Short version: this is something I’m going to try and integrate into my workflow once a week or so.

What to do next.

As adults, we’re supposed to build careers, build relationships, build futures, build happiness… It’s all pretty overwhelming. It’s easy to feel stuck — like we’re on autopilot, punching a clock, and buried in tasks we don’t really care about.

Wouldn’t it be nice to get some balance back? To have extra time every day to dedicate to the things that actually matter to you?

I want to help: I’ve compiled 5 Habits of the Unfuckwithably Productive, and I want to give it to you for free. These are time-tested habits that helped me break the cycle of overwork and exhaustion; this is how I spend less than 40 hours a week on the computer — while making a living and traveling the world.

Click here to get the free guide.