I made today an experiment in single-tasking to see if it would make me more productive without setting the house on fire. Here’s what I learned.
Last week I talked about the benefits of working without distractions and laid the ground rules for an experiment with my own working style.
It’s currently just before midnight, and I’m willing to call the experiment a resounding success.
Here’s a recap and some stats from my No-Distractions Experiment.
7:00AM: Alarm goes off. I have two hours before I have to be anywhere — I told myself last night that I’d use this time to shoot off a couple quick emails before the experiment officially started. Instead I hit the snooze for half an hour, then get sucked into an article on The Pastry Box Project.
8:00AM: I finally get out of bed and walk over to get a cup of coffee. I talk with Tim the barista about Miami and how he almost moved to Little Haiti once.
9:00AM: I arrive at Elemental Fitness Lab and manage to neither throw up nor cry during the workout. I take this as a good omen.
10:15AM: Ali and I head for a quick breakfast so we can spend some time together before I abandon her for the day.
10:52AM: I notify the world that this experiment is beginning, because obviously everyone is waiting with bated breath to hear the details of my work day.
11:00AM: The first no-distractions block begins, scheduled for 3 hours. I am able to accomplish:
- A preliminary reorganization of my todos by difficulty, since the hard stuff should probably happen while I have time to focus
- Clearing of the Bitbucket issue tracker on two works in progress for Copter clients
- Site adjustments for the paperback release of Lou Schuler’s latest book, The New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged
- Design updates for a site we’re working on with Jon Goodman
3:00PM: Break for lunch. It’s been nice not having my phone buzzing at me, so I leave it off.
4:15PM: The second no-distractions block kicks off. I had originally planned this to go from 3:30–6:30, but I worked a little longer on the first block than I expected, so I decide to play this one by ear. I accomplish:
- Art revisions for Keri Glassman’s forthcoming new site
- New functionality over on the Train Heroic site
- Style and navigation improvements for Protein Pow
- Site tweaks and a couple new features for Roman’s site
- A quick fix for Neghar Fonooni
7:45PM: I realize that I’m still working. Ali has food for us, so I eat with her and decide that the no-distractions part of my day is over. I still feel like I’ve got some productive hours left in the tank, though, so I put together two new logo concepts while we catch up on a couple TV shows.
11:45PM: I stop working and start writing this post.
A Few Key Metrics
I had two big concerns coming into this experiment:
- I was worried my team and my clients would be stuck waiting on me for something, causing tension and delays
- I was worried the lack of interruption might result in a lackadaisical attitude on my part, resulting in lower overall productivity
To measure the validity of my first concern, I figured the easiest way would be to see A) how much email I received during the day, and B) whether I had actually caused any bottlenecks.
- Current number of emails in my inbox: 173
- Number of emails that are unread (from today): 67
- Number of emails (estimated) that will require action on my part: ~40
- Number of bottlenecks I created: 0
My second concern definitely proved false, but just for fun, here are some stats:
- Number of todos I started the day with: 52
- Number of todos I completed: 27
Finally, just because I’m using a cool app that lets me track this crap, here’s where my time actually went today:
- Total time on the computer today: 12:05
- Google Chrome: 4:22 (with only 16 minutes total between Facebook and Twitter)
- Photoshop: 3:08
- Illustrator: 2:43
- Sublime Text: 0:46
The remainder of my time was split up between apps like Finder, Transmit, Font Book, and other utility apps.
What I’m Taking Away from This
I learned a few important things today that I think will benefit me quite a bit moving forward.
Most importantly, I learned that the world doesn’t stop if I’m not around. My team had no issues keeping the wheels turning on open projects, and not a single issue came up that wasn’t handled easily and quickly.
I also learned that I’m well-suited for work-a-thons. I put in about 12 hours today, and as I write this I’m not feeling drained, overworked, or unhappy about it.
I feel good about the way today went, and it shows the potential to give me a way to get the high-concentration work during the week instead of on the weekends when email dies down.
For now, at least, I’m going to give the no-distractions day a shot once a week and see how things go. If it goes well enough, I might even try a Tuesday-Thursday no-distractions schedule, with Monday-Wednesday-Friday dedicated to email, meetings, phone calls, and other lower-concentration tasks.
If every no-distractions day goes as well as today for me, I might even — GASP! — get my weekends back.
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.