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Cover image for How I learned to be more productive with my workdays
Kelly Vaughn
Kelly Vaughn

Posted on • Originally published at

How I learned to be more productive with my workdays

I'm the queen of distractions. If I see an email notification come through, I have to stop what I'm doing and check it. My phone lights up with a text? Ooh, someone wants to talk to me! (Nope, just AT&T letting me know my autopay has successfully processed.) I spent a lot of 2018 trying to figure out what I can do to make my workdays more productive. It's still very much a work in progress, but I found six primary behavior changes that helped me be more productive when I'm on the clock.

  1. I turned off push notifications. About six months ago, I turned off all push notifications for social media. The result was an immediate increase in focus on my work. I used to pick up my phone every time it would light up, and inevitably I'd get distracted and begin scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. Next thing I know, a half hour has gone by. I strongly recommend trialing disabling push notifications for a short period of time and see if it makes a difference in your productivity.
  2. All of my emails flow through SaneBox first. SaneBox is an incredibly useful tool that automatically filters your email so you're only getting notified about the important things that need to be addressed. You can train your email as well so the system gets smarter over time. On a busy week, I now only get notifications for about 75% of my emails, and just get a digest at the end of the day to let me know I have other emails to check. Plans start as low as $7/mo.
  3. I don't take meetings on Fridays anymore. That's my "me" day. I'm on Slack and I'm still checking my email, but meetings either need to happen before Friday or will have to wait until the next week. This gives me a full 8 hours of (mostly) uninterrupted time to get work done.
  4. I take breaks when I need them. Everyone needs a brain break. Developers especially need a brain break. We tend to get so caught up in attempting to solve an issue that we try and try and try until something hopefully works. 90% of time if I come back to a problem with a fresh mind after taking a 15-minute break, I can develop a solution or at least make progress towards one.
  5. I'm learning that nothing is really that urgent. If it's not written down, it's not getting done. You know how it goes: you start your workday expecting to get A, B, and C done, but throughout the day G, H, I, and J present themselves, and by the time you get to the end of your workday you have barely even started on A. I'm getting better at accepting that not everything is urgent. If it's not on fire, it can probably wait until tomorrow.
  6. I don't answer unscheduled phone calls. I know this doesn't work for everyone, and I know others are not going to agree with me here. But I have strong feelings towards phone calls in that if you don't shoot me an email or message on Slack to ask if we can have a quick phone call and instead call me outright, you value your time over my own. I'm probably busy doing something (hopefully) important, and picking up the phone will not only distract me from whatever it is I was working on but also throw me off my game after the call ends, and I'll need to regroup and figure out where I left off. Be kind and schedule calls.

What are your tricks to having a more productive workday?

Discussion (22)

lkopacz profile image
Lindsey Kopacz • Edited on

I love these! It's been really great seeing your tips on Twitter and I am going to try to implement some of these into my day!

Here's a few things I've been doing (I am thinking about my own blog post about my own productivity flow)

  • I've been using the pomidoro technique. The important thing for me is I STRETCH my legs and drink water during my breaks. I've been using the Tomato Timer to help me with these boundaries.
  • For side projects, I time block things. I create a time block event on my google calendar and say what I'd like to get done in the description of the event. This keeps me accountable and also forces me to think about why I am doing it. It also helps me not let Side projects take over my life.
  • I schedule self care. Taking care of myself helps my productivity SO MUCH. It's so easy for me to forget it if it's not routine yet. I don't need to schedule it anymore, but I did when I was first starting.
lisaveras profile image
LV 🏳️‍🌈

I second the pomodoro technique. I use an app called Bear Focus Timer that is excellent!

espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi

Mine are quite simple :

  • I have deleted my facebook account since one year now.

  • I switch off my smartphone from 9am-5pm so no WhatsApp distraction or social media in working hours and keep it out of reach of my hands during that time.

  • I drink a lot of water while working so that I can go to the toilet every one hour, it helps me to relax.

  • Always have my headphone even if I'm not listening to music.

  • I'm using Habitlab plugin to track the time I spend on websites. I have set it up to not allow me to spend more than 5 minutes on Twitter

  • Of course, disabling my notifications

pgrab86 profile image
Paweł Grabowski

Headphones without music - the same for me. It helps me to isolate and focus. Larger headphones = stronger "he is busy right now" in others minds :D

balkac profile image
Kral Balkizar

Headphone without music thing - definitelly agree, works for me as well :)

mjsarfatti profile image
Manuele J Sarfatti

I love the toilet break concept!

mrtnrdl profile image
Martin Riedel

I adopted several techniques of 'deep work' pretty succesfully:

  • plan every day in advance. i plan 1 hour intervals (minimum) for everything. no matter how 'short' anything is, it takes a while to get back in a state of concentration, so shorter intervals don't make sense for me.
  • when work-hours are over, i compile a list of todos for tomorrow. then i power off the computer and don't look back. winding down and relaxing is so important.
  • i uninstalled slack from my phone and turned of every push notification. only thing that makes the damn thing vibrate is when someone calls me.
  • alloted time slots for async communication
leppercameron profile image
Cameron Lepper • Edited on

Really useful, thanks!

I disabled all push notifications on my phone, laptop and iPad in February 2018. Was probably the best decision that I made last year, from a work and personal perspective.

Usually, at work, I stick myself on Do Not Disturb on Skype/Teams etc, to avoid people interrupting my flow with a call/IM. They can email me, but DNS status mutes all email notifications, which is nice.

Thanks for introducing me to Sane Box. Currently setting it up!

codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited on

If it's not on fire, it can probably wait until tomorrow.

Frankly, I need to print that on a poster and plaster it on my office wall.

I'm able to keep emails under control with a pretty simple policy: I star anything that needs to be read or addressed sometime reasonably soon, and anything unworthy of that just gets marked as read (for unimportant things I'll revisit eventually) or deleted outright. I spend relatively little time on emails this way...which is amazing, considering I maintain seven active addresses, each with a dedicated purpose.

Also, I do not own a smartphone, nor do I have plans to ever do so. I limit social media websites during work hours via LeechBlock.

Now if I can just figure out how to balance Freenode IRC (the online epicenter of my professional networking) and work time, I'll be golden. Most of the time, I don't sign in if I plan on focusing.

lisaaburford profile image
Lisa Burford

These are great!

I like #1, and I partially follow that. I turned off any notifications to Facebook. That platform doesn't bring me much positivity so I really don't want to be interrupted by the endless notifications during my work day. I'll check it on my own, and some days I never check it. I also put my Mac into Do Not Disturb mode where any notifications sent to my computer (text messages, emails, etc) are turned off and nothing visually interrupts me by sliding in to the corner of my screen.

I like your idea for "me" day Fridays, and I might have to implement this! (Although today I just scheduled a meeting for this Friday! haha)

And I cannot agree any more about #6!! I know people are programmed to just pick up the phone and get something off their chest, whether it's something a client wants to tell you so they don't have to remember to tell you later or if it's just easier for them to talk than type an email, my concentration gets so thrown off-balance by unscheduled calls. It's bad enough that I get robocalls and spam calls during the day. An addition to #6: emailing me then immediately calling me and leaving me a message letting me know you just emailed me won't get me to answer you any faster (of course, with the exception of a real emergency!).

I also schedule my time pretty strictly so I know what projects need focus that day or what I should jump to when I am switching projects/tasks.

Even though I've gotten better at it, I need to take breaks more often. Oh, and drink more water: It's another excuse to get up and stretch, walk away from the computer, and gain a different perspective on problems I'm solving at the moment.

eonuk profile image

I cannot see any reason to have push notifications for anything. I disable the lot. The only one is instant messaging. Sometime you get someone bored messaging you; just ignore it - they get the message

aspittel profile image
Ali Spittel

These are awesome, awesome tips!

achargoy profile image

Great tips, I think in my case the most important one is the turn off the social media notification, I improve (no my productivity) my focus.
Some times we confuse this two points, maybe I we don't have problems with distractions, we just can not focus are I am right?.

alicia04221379 profile image

So you basically learned to say no or stop whenever you feel it's needed, I think it's a smart and sort of healthy approach. Have you tried productivity tools? I've actually discovered they can be helpful :) My favorite one is Kanban Tool ( ), it helps me a lot.

thomkrillis profile image
Bobby Yankou

I've been trying to do #4 more. One technique was to use pomodoro (25m of focus, 5m break), but I found it sometimes interrupted my flow when I was making a lot of progress. I've since tried to develop the skill to recognize when I've gone too deep into an issue and take a step back, but I've been finding that to be a hard skill to develop.

I'm also starting to take #5 to heart. If something non-urgent comes up, I write it down somewhere to follow up later at some dedicated time and continue with whatever I was in the middle of doing.

I've already done some equivalent of the others, except #3; I can't get away with that one. Though maybe Wednesdays...

Great list! I'll also sometimes set an away status and relocate to a quiet space when I need to dedicate a lot of focus to something.

lauragift21 profile image
Gift Egwuenu

I'm glad I'm not alone in this struggle. I recently deleted all social media from my phone and that has really reduced the number of hours I spend on my phone daily. That was my major distraction. Great tips btw!

her_your profile image

This was the exact step I took this year to help my developmental rate. Deleting all social media (except Twitter of coz) was the best thing for me and I don't think i will be needing them back anytime soon either.

max_tulian profile image
Max (he/his)

I will try some of your tricks, currently don't have a system so well defined as yours.

From your tips,

  1. I filtered my email but manually. The strange thing is that sanebox added me after I did that... Google is seeing me (?)
  2. I'm also learning the urgency thing
  3. I'm giving myself the posibility to take a break once is needed. If one day, I code so hard, the following day I try to expend most of the day listening my team and helping but without going into the field. It's like searching the balance.

One time, I asked my project to not have calls at Fridays but it last for two weeks and then started as usual. Do you have any maximum amount of calls a day?

Additionally, I do like to meditate and expend some time a day learning something new.

Regarding meditation, is like it helps me to improve my focus on a task. It also helps me to be more relaxed and less reactive. Let me know if you want some tips about that.


prashanthr profile image
Prashanth Rajaram (He/Him)

Great list! I honestly believe that everyone's time is super valuable so I always ask before I take anyones time. I'm going to start with #3 and see how it goes!

codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne

I love the SaneBox tip, gonna try it out.

4 - taking breaks - is sooo overlooked.

I'm also practice meditation - keeps me both sane and focussed.

dechamp profile image

great tips, thank you!

balkac profile image
Kral Balkizar

Absolutelly agree with point 6. In today's age of any kind of messaging there is no reason to call without previous notice. (or agreement).