Making the most out of our time is not a thing we should do just at work. We can apply the usual productivity techniques for our free time, too!

When I started working at CookiesHQ as a remote worker, one of the things I had to tackle was my difficulty to focus on a single task. In the end, lack of focus leads to features not being shipped in time, and often, to bugs in your code because you overlooked something, and that’s something you want to avoid!

Lack of focus might come from notifications or means of communications. We can always switch off these notifications and set times for us to check our emails or return calls. Sometimes we just need to break a bad habit we have, such as visiting social media sites with no real intention, just because, and then get lost in them.

In this post, I’ll explain what I do to fight those bad habits.

Step 1: Realization

Install a time tracking application on your browser or computer, like RescueTime. With this app you’ll realize very quickly how many times you open your social networks during the day, and the absurd amount of time you spend on sites that are purely recreational, just endlessly scrolling page after page.

Step 2: Take action

Get a browser extension that prevents you from accessing unnecessary websites, like Block Site, or if you’re undisciplined, something less flexible like SelfControl. Configure them so you can only access the sites you’d like to block one hour a day, or each two days, or never.

At first you might get a bit annoyed when you can’t enter the sites you normally can. After a while, you’ll get used to it and eventually stop trying to access.

Step 3: Get things done!

As you become less distracted, you’ll be able to perform your job better. However, you’re not a machine, so you do still need your short breaks to keep some degree of sanity. Dedicate those breaks to get away from the computer for 5 minutes. Whether you take a quick walk or grab a coffee, do something to take your eyes off the screen. Using the Pomodoro technique might be of some help.

Step 4: Test yourself

Over time, you might realize that you’re dedicating less time to those distracting sites, and you now have some self-control over your previous bad habits. Turn off all control apps that prevented you from entering those sites and let’s see how that goes. If you find yourself falling again, back to step 2. It’s okay, this is about building new habits and removing old ones. It’s not easy. The goal is to not fall again, not to be under control forever, and it takes time.

Step 5: Change your lifestyle (a bit, at least)

Being productive is not just something we should try to do while at work. Don’t get me wrong, chilling out and a bit of slacking on your free time is all right (I’d say highly recommended!). But from my experience, doing absolutely nothing, ends up some months later with you realising that you’ve been wasting time. Maybe your personal life and projects have resented from this, leaving you frustrated.

The idea here is to apply steps 1 to 4 to your after-work hours. Extend the time tracking to the whole day and in step 3 you should start doing all that stuff that you never “have time for”. Exercising, writing, reading, cleaning the house, or just putting time into your semi-abandoned hobbies. Do whatever applies to you.

It’s not about getting super fit, becoming the best bass player in the world, or going to all the events there are. It’s about being able to do what you like, and building good habits around that, so you can overcome that ‘mentally tired’ feeling and feel better overall.

Conclusion

I hope this post is interesting and helps somebody out. As a final note, I’d like to recommend the reading of MindHacking, by Sir John Hargrave. It contains some nice advice and techniques to help you be a bit more “in control” of yourself.

Picture …Time… by Darren Tunnicliff used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0