How to Be Productive in a Noisy Modern World
The deadline is rapidly approaching, and the stakes are high — yet you just can’t muster up the energy to do the work. The feeling of anxiety intensifies, and you feel a pit in your stomach as you notice the pattern that’s plagued you your whole life.
When will you be the person you know you can be — the self-starting, highly-motivated productivity powerhouse?
Chances are unless you change your current approach, your results won’t change over the long term. You can’t just wish to be more productive. You need to redefine your definition of productivity and equip yourself with the right tools to accomplish your goals.
That’s why we’ve compiled this guide: to show you how to be productive in spite of all the things around you competing for your attention.
Let’s get started with our best strategies for focusing in a world full of distractions.
Practice “deep work” regularly
Cal Newport, a computer science professor, and bestselling author shattered conventional ideas of how to be productive when he released his book ‘Deep Work.’ The author was previously best known for his popular blog, ‘Study Hacks, in which he taught willing students how to get the most out of their education.
With the release of ‘Deep Work,’ Newport reached a wide audience of self-improvement aficionados and casual readers alike.
The book caused ripples in the self-help — more specifically, the productivity advice — industry and, for many, redefined what it means to be a productive person. Whereas productivity is often seen as the process of getting things done by any means necessary, Newport outlined a very specific mode of productivity — a reliable formula for doing high-quality work on a daily basis.
In the book, Newport emphasizes the importance of long, distraction-free bouts of time in which your only focus should be to give your full attention to a single task. This is what he refers to as deep work.
In his view, we should aim to produce this kind of deep work as often as possible. For some, that might mean regular 4-hour-long study sessions, while for others, it could mean hour-long coding bursts.
How to bring the deliberate practice of deep work into your life
Deep work isn’t an abstract concept or just another productivity tip. Rather, it’s a system that provides the means to achieve more with deliberate practice and consistency. It’s an exciting proposition, as it promises to strip away everything that’s immaterial in favor of just what’s necessary to succeed.
That means no social media, no internet-related distractions, and no roommates, spouses, or children — just you and your to-do list, preferably a few major items only.
If you truly want to live a productive life and get work done just as the sun rises and falls each day, you must start cultivating the skill of focus — yes, it’s a skill, not a predisposed attribute. And that’s exactly what you do with frequent deep work sessions.
With practice, you can arrive at a point where you no longer succumb to distractions so easily. This is the key to hitting the goals you set for yourself since distractions will consistently throw you off course if you can’t face them head on.
Over time, you’ll be able to flick a switch in your mind and put up the blinders, ignoring everything that isn’t an urgent task for you at the moment. It isn’t easy, as it takes a lot of energy, time, and dedication, but just like meditation, it’ll grant you access to a deeper state of mind that you’ll be able to tap into regularly.
Here are three strategies to help you instill productive habits and get your life back on track with deep work:
Strategy #1: Time blocking
Time blocking is all about wrestling back control of your time by being proactive and planning ahead. With a system for managing your time, you can effectively ‘win’ back time that otherwise would have gone to a non-productive activity like scrolling through your social media feeds.
To make the most of this time-saving strategy which can help you produce more in less time, pull up your online calendar or sit down with your paper diary. Now, take a look at the upcoming week, and plan out your days by blocking out time for various activities.
It’s as simple as that.
If you have an important blog post to write, make time for it in your calendar by assigning a two to three-hour period. That way, you won’t need to think about when to do your blog post — you just need to show up when your calendar reminds you.
Strategy #2: Find your style
In ‘Deep Work,’ Cal — the author and productivity expert — showcases various styles of working since not everyone works best in the same way. There are four main styles of working, which are outlined as follows:
- Bimodal: In the bimodal style, you’ll split up your time so that you have periods where you’ll focus on deep work and periods where you’ll engage in light, or shallow, work. This style of working can be effective on a day-to-day basis or help you structure your weeks.
- Monastic: The monastic style requires you to channel your inner Zen monk as you zone out all distractions and take on a monk-like existence of shutting yourself away until the work gets done.
- Rhythmic: In the rhythmic style, you can get into the groove of deep work by implementing deep work sessions once in a while. This style is recommended if you have a hard time concentrating for long periods of time, as you can ease yourself in and work on developing focus.
- Journalistic: Finally, there’s the journalistic style. Journalists are often on standby, at the mercy of breaking news. This means they can be called to work at odd hours, but during those hours, they can focus and get the work done effectively. With this style, you engage in deep work whenever you get a spare moment. This is the best approach if you have a busy lifestyle that doesn’t permit you to carve out several hours for deep work ahead of time.
Try out the different styles and figure out which one works best for you. You might be surprised to find that you were going about productivity the wrong way, forcing yourself to work in a way that didn’t suit your lifestyle and preferences.
Strategy #3: Practice digital minimalism
In a related book, ‘Digital Minimalism,’ Newport details how cutting back on social media and general internet use can help you live your most productive life. Digital minimalism is all about taking back control of your time and overcoming the addictive powers of technology.
- Get off social media.
- Spend less time mindlessly consuming digital media like YouTube.
- Take a 30-day break from your smartphone.
For more concrete strategies, check out our list of productivity tips.
Take practical steps to minimize distractions
Digital minimalism is key if you want to get ahead in life. The only thing holding you back from being a more productive person is the constant barrage of distractions that fight for your attention every day.
Distractions are everywhere, but it’s your response to them that matters most. Your phone vibrates, and you take it out mindlessly to check if your parcel is out for delivery. In this micro-moment, you’ve succumbed to the distraction.
Minimize the frequency of distractions
Our days are littered with small moments like these where we give in to the gadgets around us, and the allure of notifications and dopamine hits. Evidence suggests that even a small distraction can spell disaster for your ability to concentrate, so you can only imagine what continual distractions can do for your attention span over time.
We know the effect distractions have on our productivity level, yet we can’t control our pre-programmed responses to certain stimuli. It takes a self-discipline master to pen an essay effectively with their phone buzzing every few minutes.
To combat distractions, then, we have to minimize their frequency. 61.6% of employees claimed that social media was the primary distraction, and 53.7% said mobile phones were the worst distraction. So turn off social media notifications on your phone — or put your phone in “do not disturb” mode when you’re trying to focus on work. While this won’t protect you from chatty colleagues, it will eliminate the biggest digital distraction in one move.
We’re not saying you have to self-isolate in a bunker, but some level of protection from the flurry of daily distractions is necessary. Clear your desk of clutter, remove your phone and other gadgets from the room, and close all 20 other tabs you have open (yes, even those few you’ve been meaning to visit for weeks now). Hang a “do not disturb” sign on your office door or even on your back if you’re in a shared office, and take advantage of noise-canceling headphones.
Then, you’re in a much better position for focussing on any difficult tasks at hand. If you work remotely, carve out a space for yourself, even if it’s just a desk in the corner of the room. It’ll make a world of difference to your productivity, and you’ll start to associate the space with getting things done.
If there’s no way to avoid constant distractions, you need to work on learning how to focus efficiently.
Best tools for dealing with distractions
Everyone loves a shiny new weapon to take with them into battle with their demons. Be it a Pomodoro clock providing a work metronome or an app that tracks your time and keeps you honest, tools can help you take the fight to your inner distraction monkeys and become a more productive person.
It may sound trivial, but an alarm clock could be just what you need to ramp up your productivity. The humble alarm clock serves to remind you of time without also shoving app notifications, new messages, and software update reminders in your face. It’s like that app on your phone, but without all the added distractions — crazy, we know!
Use an alarm clock to track your deep work sessions and ensure you’re moving in the right direction. Aim for sessions of around 1–4 hours, depending on what you’re working on and your current ability to focus.
Alternatively, you can use the alarm clock to support your efforts by using the Pomodoro method. With the Pomodoro method, you’ll set up chunks of time — typically between 20–40 minutes in which you’ll work flat out. Then, you’ll have short breaks of around 5–15 minutes in which you can recharge, drink water, and get fired up for the next round of work.
Many people enjoy a lot of success with the Pomodoro method, as it allows for a healthy balance of work and rest.
Time-tracking apps can help you wrestle back control of your precious time, and provide you with accurate data you can use to improve.
While there are many worthwhile apps out there, one of the best for personal use is Forest.
Forest takes time-tracking into uncharted territories, making it enjoyable to keep tabs on how you spend your time.
How does it work?
You pick a tree to grow in your virtual plot of land, and then leave your device with the app running somewhere far out of reach. Once you’re done working, stop the timer in the app, and you’ll have a fully-formed tree in your garden.
The tree will vary in appearance depending on how long you worked, so it’s easy to see at a glance how much time each tree in your land represents. Gamifying the way you spend your time is a great way to get the most out of your minutes.
Having 20+ tabs open during the day represents a significant obstacle in the path to productivity. Granted, sometimes you do need to have multiple tabs open to get your work done, but surely there’s a better way to manage them?
With Stack, you can organize your online work by grouping tabs together and working in split-screen cards. That way, you can go about your work without constantly tab-hopping and creating a cluttered desktop.
Our Spaces feature lets you completely separate browsing experiences focused on work and ones for entertainment or personal projects. You can easily create spaces that contain all tabs related to each specific purpose. That makes it easy to keep track of your research, without getting distracted by cute cat videos on social media.
The focus mode lets you tap into the deep work mindset without having to waste your time organizing your online workspace. In an instant, you can mute all the notifications that threaten to throw you off your game, leaving you to focus on the work.
The computer, when connected to the internet, offers up an array of distractions that can disrupt even the most productive person’s work. As such, honing in on what really matters with focus mode can save you time and help you develop your ability to concentrate.
Systemize and separate your personal and work life
One of the biggest issues people face when trying to be more productive is failing to put the right systems in place to ensure ongoing success. You can have the most productive day of your life, but if you can’t recreate the same results in the following days, it’s only a drop in the ocean.
It’s just like going to the gym one day and absolutely crushing it for over two hours, only to burn yourself out for the rest of the week and spend it sitting on the couch. You need systems and habits that make it hard for you to fail by automating key processes.
Stack solves this problem by putting a comprehensive system for reducing distractions and focusing on work on a virtual plate for you.
Our browser serves up a feast of tools for staving off all the distractions the internet brings. That way, you can free up valuable headspace and get to work without worrying about what’s going to throw you off course next.
Stack offers a variety of features that help you do just that, such as the following:
Spaces is a unique feature that lets you group your tabs and most-used apps together in a way that makes it easy to separate your work and personal life digitally.
Imagine if you had to bring your spouse and children to your office every day, or work from the dining table at home. It’s not impossible, but it’s less than ideal for both you and your family. The same happens in our browsers today — tabs that are meant for your professional life, social life, and personal hobbies, are all mixed up.
With Spaces, you can ensure that each tab, website, and app is in the right “digital room.” Start by creating at least one “living room” where personal tabs like cat videos can live, and one “digital office” for Slack, work email, your CRM, and any white papers you’re researching. You can also get more granular, creating spaces for specific hobbies, personal projects, and more.
Bookmarking is an excellent way to flag something important for later. ‘Save card’ takes this feature and improves upon it, allowing you to save more than just a link. With it, you can grab your personal Twitter page, your boss’s LinkedIn profile, and so much more. And this is only the beginning of the modern browser features we bring to the table.
Are you tired of losing track of your tabs or apps when researching or working on something? Switch works like Spotlight Search in macOS, letting you instantly search for and open an app or specific page based on a keyword. You can quickly find the right tab (out of the 30 you have open) or any of your saved cards, helping you work at the speed of thought.
You’re here again, riding the wave of anxiety that courses through your body as the due date looms. Yet, instead of giving in to the panic and surfing YouTube with an overwhelming feeling of guilt gripping your stomach, you’re able to relax.
You trust in the systems you’ve developed.
You know that you’ll be able to do the last-minute work in a deep work session or two, as long as you remove distractions and use your favorite tools for staying focused. You have systems in place to keep you on task, and Stack is on hand to make sure things don’t get out of hand.
You’ve got this.
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