Just nine percent of us are successful in following through on New Year’s resolutions. That low number suggests that maybe, just maybe, creating a resolution that you’re not going to commit to -- and then feel guilty about -- is a waste of time.
Maybe this year, try something a little different. Let go of the pressure to radically remake your life and hack it instead, with some truly easy ways to improve productivity, cut distractions and see stronger results. For me, this all started with realizing just how dependent on technology I really was (and precisely how bad it is for you -- it majorly impacts your memory, according to multiple studies).
You can detach from technology with no ill effects and truly, only benefits in return. Here’s what I did and what’s working for me right now.
1. Remove email from your phone.
Yes, you read that right. Remove email from your phone. Do not conflate responding to email with being productive. I promise you, checking your email 10 times an hour is unnecessary. It’s a soul- and productivity-sucking distraction from the things that actually do demand attention for progress. You’ll still have the ability to login through your browser if absolutely necessary, but checking email only two or three designated times a day from your laptop will massively improve your ability to focus on more important tasks.
2. No phone in the bedroom.
Sleep quality and quantity matters, both for your health and your productivity. Having the phone on your nightstand impacts both, and not in a good way. In fact, the blue light your cell phone emits makes it difficult for your brain to understand it’s night.. Make your bedroom a space that’s truly tranquil. Put your charger and phone in the hallway or a spare room at night, and set an old-fashioned alarm clock. I have one of these and it’s fantastic.
3. Delete Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
Social media is like being an unwitting part of a Pavlovian experiment. It’s nearly impossible to resist that unhealthy addiction to all of the likes and comments on your various social media feeds. That tiny hit of dopamine you feel every time a notification pops up also distracts you from whatever it was you were doing that mattered in real life. I found myself checking these sites in the middle of conversations with my wife or in important meetings -- but why was I missing the opportunity to connect in person? I didn’t have a good answer.
The solution is simple -- delete social media apps from your phone. I can’t overstate the relief I felt after removing Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and email from my phone. If I need a moment to distract myself when standing in line for coffee, I visit one of two apps, The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Better to mindlessly browse something substantive than check out another Biden/Obama meme. It’s also legit to ignore the siren song of technology altogether and simply be present to the beauty of the world around you for a few moments.
4. Leave your phone behind in meetings.
Bring your phone into meetings and cue mindless scrolling during the discussion. You’ll miss the content of the meeting, which is obviously a huge time waste, and you look like a complete ass in the process. Everyone deserves the minimum courtesy of your attention, which you probably expect in return when you talk. And, really, why bother being there at all if you’re not actually going to be present? Encourage others to do the same, and leave their phones behind, particularly if you’re a leader. You’ll be amazed at how much shorter, more productive and substantive your meetings will become.
5. Literally block yourself from viewing certain webpages.
Let your smarter self outmaneuver your in-the-moment impulses. You can use a Chrome extension like Block site to prevent yourself from visiting sites that are good for very little beyond serious distractions. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you forget about spending time on sites where you gain nothing but distract yourself from the more important task at hand and waste precious time in an incredibly short life.
6. Don’t write your emails in an email program.
You’re paragraphs in to writing an important email and then PING. PING! PING! You’ve got mail. There is nothing more distracting and counterproductive than getting notified you have new mail. Who could it be? What do they want? Maybe it’s important, something time sensitive. Maybe even more important than coordinating with a colleague on your presentation to your boss. Nope, it’s somebody confirming a meeting that’s two weeks out. Whew, glad you got that one out of the way! But thanks to jumping from writing your email to checking the new one, you’ve completely interrupted your line of thinking.
Close your browser, set your phone aside, and write important emails in Word, Dropbox or some other low distraction tool. Then cut and paste before sending.
7. Focus on just three to five important tasks each day.
Make a short list of three to five things you want to get done each day and no more. I know a very successful entrepreneur who makes a list of three items -- max -- to get done each morning. Getting only one done is a bad day; two is a good day, and three a great day. This trick is great because it’s really less about making a to-do list and more about clarifying and honing your priorities.
Taking your inbox to zero, for example, is not a task that should ever be on this list. Think instead about the next major piece of work to drive the product roadmap forward, building and communicating the schedules for key milestones in advance of an important meeting, or adding slides to the sales deck that represents a new product or feature. To make the list, the work better be really significant.
Making progress on a small number of vital projects will yield far greater long-term results than knocking off dozens or more meaningless items on a long to-do list.