We live in an interconnected world that is constantly striving for a share of our attention. With smartphones, tablets and wearable computers becoming ever more ubiquitous, distractions are only ever one touch away. Without a considerable degree of self-control you can find yourself procrastinating. A survey by TecMark in 2014 reported that the average user now performs 221 tasks a day on their smartphone and spends a staggering 3 hours per day looking at their phone(1). In this digital review there is a focus on improving personal productivity by reducing unwanted distractions.
Silence your smartphone notifications
There are currently a number of smart phone functions which can limit when and who you are disturbed by, as well as applications, which are designed to increase our productivity by changing our habits. The iPhone and iPad have a built in Do Not Disturb feature which limits when and who can contact you. The Do Not Disturb feature can be accessed from the settings or by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. When it is on a crescent moon icon is shown in the status bar next to battery status. The feature allows you to select which contact groups, favourites or if no one can contact you.
For those on Android, there are improvements for those who have been able to upgrade to latest upgrade called Android 5 “Lollipop”. The feature, which limits who can disturb you, can be accessed by pressing the volume key and choosing from None, Priority or All. You can select which users are part of your priority group from your notification settings. For those not able to upgrade to “Lollipop”, there are a number of applications, which have similar functionality, including the aptly titled Do Not Disturb app (free to try, £1.90 full version) and NightsKeeper (free to try, £1.99 for the Pro version). Both apps are available through Google Play and allow control over who can contact you, and should you wish, can alert the person who is contacting you that you that you are unavailable at present. Windows phone has an inbuilt feature called Quiet Hours, and Blackberry also has its own Do Not Disturb feature inbuilt into its phones.
Interruption free Internet browsing
For those who are prone to procrastination caused by social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc) there are browser extensions that can be used to prevent access to sites you determine for a set amount of time. Stayfocusd is one such browser extension available for free and works in Google Chrome, on all operating systems. Similar browser extensions include Productivity Owl, Time Warp and StrictWorkflow. An alternative approach is used by the Motiviation browser extension, which replaces your new tab page with a real-time counter which updates with your rapidly incrementing age.
For those needing additional self-control, Microsoft Windows users can use ColdTurkey (free) or Freedom ($10) to block access to certain websites, the Internet and even certain programmes. Mac users can chose from similar applications which block access to select websites in all Internet browsers including Self Control (free), Focus ($19.99) and Freedom ($10).
Procrastination free word processors
For those seeking distraction free word processors, Q10 (Windows, Free), OmmWriter (Mac, PC and iPad Free) and FocusWriter (Windows / Mac / Linux, Free) are particularly popular. Hanx Writer (iPhone and iPad, Free) and Typewriter (Android, Free) offer a retro typewriter interface to decrease the disruption to your writing on smartphones and tablets. If you are using Microsoft Word then you can select a full screen layout by going to the View menu and selecting Focus (2013 and later) and Full screen (2003-2010).
Organise your desktop
Applications I have found particularly useful when using laptops and larger screens are Spectacle (Mac, Free) and Divvy (Windows, Free). These applications allow you to move, resize and organise positions of your open programmes on your desktop. Meaning that you can have several applications open on your screen and improve your workflow between programmes.
- Smartphone Usage Statistics 2014 – UK Survey of Smartphone Users | Tecmark [Internet]. [cited 2015 Jan 18]. Available from: http://www.tecmark.co.uk/smartphone-usage-data-uk-2014/
Author Mr Ivo Dukic, Post CCT Fellow in Urology