private override


Managing Distractions

I’ve recently started to practice the pomodoro technique.  Holy F!  This super simple practice has uncovered how much time I completely waste in a workday (not to mention my non-work time).

I feel like I’m cheating myself and my customer (read employer), so I’m going to do something about it.  I’ve never read much of Covey, but @shanselman mentioned Covey’s quadrants (see a mind-map version below) in this video I watched the other day.  For me, living only in quadrants 1 & 2 (the top two) is all good, but there are times when I basically want to just ‘check out’ and be a bum (Office Space style).  My goal is to be intentional and choose when I’m doing that, rather than just letting it happen.


Baby Steps

The pomodoro technique is a great start to help manage and become aware, but I need some help.  Here’s what I set up for myself at this point:

  • Pomodo7o with Growl Plugin
  • Growl using the Visor notification (I don’t like toast, so this is great for me)
  • VirtuaWin (for Windows, this is built into most other OS’s, e.g. Spaces on OSX)
  • Throw ALL distracting things to a second VirtuaWin workspace.
    • Gmail
    • GReader
    • Twitter (turn off twitter notifications)
    • Outlook (turn off new mail toast and new mail tray indicator)
    • Evernote (turn off any messages)
    • Windows Live Writer
    • Time tracking applications
    • Anything else that dings/hoots/toasts or otherwise distracts you
  • Only check email (Gmail and Outlook) during pomodoro breaks or other scheduled times
  • Only check twitter during pomodoro breaks or other scheduled times (I’ve started only checking twitter before I start work, and right before I head home).
  • Hook Outlook into Growl so I don’t miss meetings
  • Keep a text file or post-it note ready to capture interruptions.  Most interruptions can be logged, and then dealt with in a subsequent pomodoro.

I only allow myself to go over to my other desktop during a pomodoro break.  This makes it really easy to know when I’m going off task.  It also makes it REALLY hard to find something wasteful to do.  There isn’t anything in my “workspace” that is wasteful anymore, so if I do ANYTHING in there, it’ll probably be productive.

Feeling Too Disconnected?

I’ve got the shakes!  Doing this thing cold turkey is hella hard.  So here’s a patch to wean you off.

Download Trowl and hook up @’s and DM’s (and select other folks you might need to hear from throughout the day).  Now those tweets will be Growled at you.  I don’t get @’ed or DM’ed too often, so it’s not terribly distracting, but has high reward in helping to reduce the withdrawal symptoms.


I’m just starting, so this is my first attempt really.  How do you manage?

Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. The pomodoro technique is great but when I’ve tried it I’ve found it to be most effective when you have a long list of tasks to get done.

    It was hard for me to maintain a long list of things to get done. Is this true for you?

  2. It definitely helps to have a decent sized list, but I tend to not have a problem while I’m at work. If I run out, I’ll just go grab something from the board.

    I use it at home to keep focused on chores that I don’t enjoy doing or other items that need focused attention (preparing talks, researching living arrangements, etc.). When I run out of things to do… drink beer/watch basketball/’check out’.

  3. I need something like this!

    I downloaded Pomodo7o and tried to run it (Snap!) but it is either only for Windows 7 or I don’t know what I’m doing.

    Thanks for helping me get moving on this. Too much waste!

  4. Alright! You twisted my arm enough! I added graceful degradation for non-Win7 systems now.

    Give it a shot, let me know what you think. (It’ll take 25 minutes+Growl before you get any feedback at all that its working… I’ll add a timer view eventually, for those folks without Win7)

  5. The virtual desktops / text document for distractions is pretty much the format that I follow as well. Makes it pretty easy to separate what you are working on. I follow the same strategy for twitter as well, although typically I only do this once or twice a day. At some point was thinking about doing a followup post because it was one of the more popular posts I had, will keep these things in mind as well. Still haven’t figured out the answer to Hammer’s question awhile back about how this works in a team environment.

  6. I don’t do pomodoro, but in a fit of inspiration from about making time to make, I implemented a policy of no IM in the mornings. It works for me because my coworkers are 3 hours behind and I would only be chatting with friends during that time. I’ve pruned away all distracting apps, so as long as I only check email “occasionally” I’m in good shape as far as totally unrelated distractions. The problem is there are worse distractions that happen to LOOK like work, like twiddling with an emacs config or checking out the code or docs from other projects.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.