It’s a gratifying feeling when you can stay laser-focused on work and plow through all the stuff you need to get done. Then, all of a sudden it’s a beep, ding, ring, swipe ⏳💣📨, and an endless stream of notifications from work and from home. This not only becomes a distraction, but it’s also downright irritating. 🤯
When you mix in the stress of deadlines, those nagging notifications can get to the boiling point. And at various points in time, I’ve felt like tossing my phone out the window. 📱
The added problem of notifications is that they pile on the work and add more to-dos to your growing list. How many notifications do you get to your phone in an hour? Try counting them. I did and even though I thought I had most notifications turned off, I was shocked at how many I received. Even the Ring doorbell motion sensor going off at home was causing me to cringe. 😱
My point? There’s so much “noise” today. And I think we can all agree that it’s killing productivity, and leading to burnout, a syndrome that results from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
Whether you choose to interrupt your routine to address each text message, email message, todo reminder, Slack notice, or work issue as it comes at you, or you let it build up behind the scenes, a lot of time and energy is being spent on “just work” stuff.
Remote work has its advantages. It has brought some flexibility into our lives, but it has arguably intensified this phenomenon. In fact, a recent study published by Harvard Business School shows that since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, there has been a “significant and durable increase in the length of the average workday (+8.2% or +48.5 minutes), along with short-term increases in email activity.”
Yes, like others I have a tendency to get distracted especially at home listening to those annoying beeps and dings. And I feel like I have to respond more so at home than I would if I was in the office.
So, how can we eliminate the noise and protect our time? How can we stop worrying about all the $%^t that doesn’t move us forward? It’s not as simple as just turning the phone off or keeping it silent (although that works from time to time). In my case, I’ve found I need a little more help.
Clutter leads to heightened levels of anxiety. Any interior designer would argue this, and I know first hand that having stuff laying around everywhere causes me nothing but worry. Clutter is often a result of procrastination and, in my experience, procrastination is an outcome of not having an easy way of dealing with stuff.
I am a bit (probably more than a bit) OCD when it comes to cleaning and getting organized. I never used to be but I’ve realized how wonderful it is just to have things in their proper place. The clutter around the house gets to me. A lot! I find that I can’t get my work done if things are spread out all over the place and in complete disarray. My work life is no different and I have to make sure that everything is organized. Files are put in their proper place, my desktop is clean and I’m only looking at actionable emails in my inbox.
Check out the picture from my house. This was just a few days ago and it was stressing me out. Our simple home renovation has turned into an OCD nightmare. I am quite literally overwhelmed by everything going on and it turned our lives upside down. It looks like a mess but I’ve watched the construction workers go about their business every single day and I’ve noticed how they get organized ALL THE TIME. The clutter gets piled, it gets moved and the workplace is organized every night and every morning.
Clear the clutter out of your head
It’s not enough to just get organized and sort out the clutter that might be lying around. You have to actually get it out of your head. Stop that internal nagging that just keeps gnawing at you. The best way I’ve found to do that is to make sure everything is parked, organized, and ready for me to find it when I need it. Then I can set a simple reminder, or in my case keep an email unread (which means I need to action it).
I don’t keep a laundry list of todos and I certainly don’t keep all my associated emails unread—this ends up being just another form of disorganization. 😩 I keep a simple high-level reminder (usually on the calendar) or a single actionable email unread. Everything else associated with the reminder or unread email is left to be searched later. I’ve found that I’m better managing myself at a high-level rather than micro-managing each and every single task—micro management saturates.
Having this method has kept my mind clear and focused. However, there are a couple of tricks with this. One, you have to make sure you can find $%^t when you need it. And two, you need to breakdown or bundle the tasks into manageable bite-sized chunks.
Pick simple tools and methods
Have you heard the phrase, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”? Although productivity tech has changed dramatically over the last 10 years, when you dissect the industry, it comes down to the same objectives: getting more organized and making the right information easier to access.
For the most part, tools accomplish this through various combinations of email, chat, and spreadsheets. At the end of the day, you don’t need a million flashy tools to be productive. Instead, try getting back to basics by simplifying your processes as much as possible. Evaluate the tools you’re using and see if any can be replaced with products you already use. The right tools = less noise.
I don’t have a countless number of productivity tools and I’ve relied on simple stuff like email and calendars. Even with email, I don’t have a million rules or sub-folders because they just cause me yet more clutter and frustration. I also don’t use some of the more recent cloud-based project management tools because they too caused my blood pressure to rise every time they dinged, beeped, and sounded the alarm ⏰ about my overdue tasks that day [and every day].
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the noise, it might be worth taking a hard look at how you're currently operating and test out one or more of these ideas.
Have other ideas? I’d love to hear them. Please leave a note in the comments.