Keeping up

Web Workers Daily runs an excellent post, asking the question:

What tools and techniques do you use to control your attention online?

It falls into a general productivity area. How can one stay more focused and to The Right Things? This is the question that I am trying to answer for quite some time now.

One of my recent approaches was to not do anything that is not on my TODO list. I promised myself not to put any crap on the list and to do only things which are written their.

Unfortunately, that failed. I managed to not put any crap on my list – that I can say. But, regardless, my list always grew so long that I never felt like doing anything at all that was written there. Occasionally, I would complain that the TODO list application is not doing the right job of prioritising my tasks, or is too difficult to use, or is not flexible enough, or another million excuses not to work. And then I’d change the application to another one, and start rebuilding my TODO list, until it once again gets too long.

And, of course, I kept doing plenty of stuff that wasn’t on the list. “Read email” and “Check news in feeds at Google Reader” didn’t sound like plausible TODO list items, yet were something that I had really wanted to do.

During my search for the solution, I managed to find a few things that help though. One of them is closing the Google Reader browser tab. Even if for a few minutes. I used to have it always open and was used to switching to it between the tasks – when another page takes too long to load, for example. That’s playing with fire – it’s too easy to get out of focus and forget what I was doing. So, I’m keeping it closed now for as long as I can. Then open it, read some news, and close it again. The opening part seems to help my productivity – I don’t like to open and wait for things to happen, so sometimes I decide to not read the feeds, because it’ll take too long to load them.

Another thing that I found helpful, was rather surprising – KMail’s new mail notification in the taskbar. It shows the number of new messages in my inbox (work related email, my private stuff is still in GMail). Before I used to check my email just to see if there was any new messages. Now, I know if there are. As I said, surprisingly, this had some effect on how I work. I can’t resist checking email to answer the question “Are there any new messages in my inbox?”, but I can hold on answering “What are all those people writing to me about?”. Wonders.

Something that will further help me, but that I haven’t started to use yet is my instant messaging statuses. For now, I’m either online and available, or offline. That’s not enough. I have to work and concentrate sometimes and should start using the “Away” and “Do not disturb” statuses.

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