7 Productivity Tools & Tips to Increase Focus

Distraction and interruption are two of the biggest enemies of productive, deep work. Working at a computer all day, I fight them constantly. I need not provide a litany of example distractions. You know them well if you work on a computer. Here are the most helpful things I’ve adopted into my own workflow to be more focused and productive at work.

1. Turn Off Notifications

There are a surprising number of notifications set to “on” by default. Realize this, and intentionally decide which are important enough to warrant the interruption of your work. For me, this is Calendar and Messages. Calendar notifications remind me when I need to be somewhere. Messages is necessary for work communication, though I will turn it off if I really need to focus. What’s the moral of the story? Don’t let your computer’s default settings decide when you should be interrupted. You decide.

2. Email: Check at Set Times, Batch Process to Inbox Zero

Don’t constantly check email. Don’t even think of leaving it open all day. Once you’ve turned off all email notifications and badges, be disciplined enough to only check it at set times during the day. For me, this means twice a day – once in the morning and once after lunch. Define what times are right for you.1

When you do check your email, batch process it down to inbox zero. Essentially, this means following these three rules:

  • If an email can be dealt with in less than 2 minutes, deal with it.
  • If an email will take longer than 2 minutes, write down a to-do and move it to an “Actionable” folder for later reference.
  • Once dealt with, move email to an archive folder. (Don’t waste time sorting into folders. Use search instead.)

3. Use Isolator App

Isolator is a simple Mac app that hides everything on your screen except the app you’re working in (and the menu bar). It’s amazing how much this tool helps me focus on the task at hand. For more, read Unitasking by Trent Walton.

4. Set Second Monitor Wallpaper to Black

If you have a second monitor and use it part of the time, set its wallpaper to black. That way, when it’s not in use, it’s invisible. It won’t visually compete with the work on your primary monitor.

5. Add Empty New Tab Page Plugin to Chrome

By default, a new tab in Chrome displays a grid of your most frequently visited sites. For me, this screen serves as a menu of distraction rather than a helpful shortcut. Chrome was telling me where to go when I should have been in charge. There’s no preference to turn it off, so download the Empty New Tab Page plugin to restore focus to your browsing.

6. Use Pocket to Save Interesting Links for Later

Don’t go down the rabbit hole offered by the interesting but irrelevant links that inevitably pop up during the day. Don’t even keep them stored in open tabs in your browser. Get them out of sight and out of mind. Use Pocket or a similar tool to save them for later.

7. Work at Your Workstation, Get Distracted in Your Distraction Chair

Set up habit fields. Reserve your workstation for work. Designate a different space for casually browsing the Internet or checking out all the interesting links you saved in #6. What’s the advantage? Over time, you will condition your own behavior. By doing only work in your workspace, you’ll be less prone to distraction while working. This takes discipline to implement, but the advantages are worth it.

  1. See the bullet points under “Strategy 1” in this article for some helpful tips in defining your own times to process email.