Make time wasting difficult

I really feel like that combination of little, easy motor skills and clicking combined with feeling a little less bored for a minute is completely addictive to people. (…) What I am saying is, if you’re not mindful about the amount of your attention that goes to thinking about and consuming those things, you’re not going to be making good stuff, either for that medium or elsewhere.

- Merlin Mann

I’m talking about those small time nibblers which we let exist primarily because of our thoughts and habits: checking email every so often, or twitter/facebook every five minutes. By introducing just a little friction between myself and those time wasters, I’ve found it easier to stay focused and avoid the time overhead when switching back and forth when getting work done.

And how do you create those hurdles? If you just did a clean install of your OS like me, you basically do nothing. Otherwise, you clean up your computer (particularly your browser) a bit.

  • Remove the browser extensions. Yes, get rid of that email notifier, twitter and facebook extensions and widgets. Basically anything that pops out in your browser or desktop and tells you there’s something you need to see. Even if there is nothing new, the presence of the icon will probably just make you want to stop what you’re doing and go check anyway. I only keep those extensions that allow me to post to these sites, nothing that notifies me about how many new tweets or messages I have waiting.
  • Sign out and close the tabs. If you’re like me, you probably have your browser start up with all the tabs you had open when you quit it last. Next time you close your browser, just close all the tabs. At least the time wasters. Otherwise, you just get dropped right at the login screen or at your home page and it’s just easy to get sucked into clicking through tweets and facebook updates without being mindful of the time lost.

If I want to check twitter, I now have to perform some additional steps which I could have avoided earlier. Rather than clicking on an extension button or worse, starting off right at the login screen, I now need to open a new tab and go to the website myself. Multiply this by the number of sites you visit, and these additional steps add up. Besides, the absence of a visual cue or indicator to check these websites lets me focus my attention on tasks that need them.