Digital workers are highly fortunate. We’re able to work from wherever we want, whenever we want, and control work entirely on our own terms. Of course, most of us have clients to please, deadlines to meet, and projects to work on, but outside the specifications of our career, we’re tied to relatively few guidelines and requirements.
This leaves us in an interesting position. We have so much choice in what to spend our time on that we very often spend it doing nothing. From productivity killers like Youtube and Twitter to poor habits that catch us out of completing all our work, the internet is packed with ways to distract ourselves. If you’re sick of seeing wasted hours racked up in your favorite browser, then try these habits, plug-ins, and resources.
Change your setting not your behavior
Trying to work when you’re demotivated just isn’t effective. While regular office jobs can push you into working all the time, or at least pretending to work, being an online professional gives you the freedom to do absolutely nothing, whenever you want. Changing this behavior is hard, and there are inevitably going to be days where you’ll just want to curl up on the couch and watch Blade Runner.
The best way to fight demotivation isn’t through strict behavioral changes and Gordon Gekko style motivational speeches, but by changing the setting that you work in. Move to somewhere that doesn’t give you the chance to slack around. Libraries, university buildings, and public office areas are all great places for forced productivity. Most have wireless connections, and almost all of them block out Youtube, Facebook, and other annoying productivity killers.
Work on tasks in batches
There’s a reason that the most successful companies are specialists. Specializing is effective, and it’s certainly less taxing than trying to be a renaissance man (or renaissance woman). When you take on anything and everything at once, it’s easy to spend more time flicking from one task to another than you do actually working.
When you’re scheduling your day, don’t divide it into sections based on project but sections based on the type of work you’ll be doing. For example, a morning spent designing buttons is likely to be much more productive than five interrupted design sessions throughout the day. The easiest way to schedule this in Firefox is to open a bookmarked divider with NowDoThis, and create a list of batch tasks.
Use windows not tabs
I know, I know, we’re all trying to forget the days when Internet Explorer was king of browsers and windows were the norm. Managing ten windows at once wasn’t easy, especially on a Pentium II running Windows 98. Thankfully, performance has improved significantly since then, but managing websites with browser windows is still clumsy and difficult.
However, this actually gives you a great way to minimize the amount of distractions you can access at any one time. Tabs are much more effective for handling multiple pages, which is why it’s so tempting to open hundreds at once without assigning any thought to it. When you force yourself to manage websites with browser windows, you end up opening a tenth of what you normally would.
Log out of your instant messenger
Juggling a browser and an instant messenger at once kills your productivity. Yes, it’s nice to be able to communicate with clients all the time, but that same constant communication is what causes you to alt+tab from one application to the other every ten seconds. Clients, on the whole, are fairly understanding, and when you explain that the jump from constant communication to email-only during the workday is so that you can focus on their projects, they’ll rarely be upset.
The biggest problem with ‘productivity’ applications is that most of them don’t work. You can install 100 Firefox extensions, organize your Google Reader effective, and still have trouble getting work done. In fact, it seems that the more productivity add-ons you’ve got installed, the greater the chance that you’ll lose productivity by fiddling with them all the time.
These Firefox extensions, applications, and tools are all about measurable productivity. It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking technology can make you more productive – these applications force it to.
Leechblock is the Mr. T of productivity tools – it’s literally impossible to mess with it. Essentially, Leechblock is a filter list for any websites that distract you from your work. Install it, set up lists for different activities – writing, research, and design for example – then set it into effect with a lockdown. Whenever you try and visit a filtered website, you end up with a friendly no-go page, and a reminder that you’ve got more important things to do.
When it comes to productivity, most email applications are a real time-waster. They’re not designed with tasks in mind, merely a all-encompassing communications list that requires manual organization. While Gmail’s standard online interface has some cool features for tagging and categorizing emails, it’s still not enough for dedicated online workers.
GTDInbox changes Gmail into a task-based interface, perfect for designers. Instead of hundreds of nearly identical emails, you’ve got a simple to-do list of tasks, communications, and important information. Currently it’s only available for Firefox users, but GTDInbox are working on a desktop client for 2010.
Do you ever get to the end of a day, and just wonder where all the time went? RescueTime makes it easy to track your digital time usage, allowing greater accountability for tasks and projects. Productivity guru Tim Ferriss is an investor in this software, which allows you to view time usage right down to individual websites and applications.
There’s a free version available, which allows you to track simple time usage across different types of websites, applications, and tasks. If you need more details for your time management, there are a range of paid versions available, allowing user-created task definitions, more detailed time breakdowns, and even features to compare your productivity against other users.
Oh, and for those of you wondering, RescueTime requires no user input at all. Don’t worry – this isn’t another productivity utility that costs more time than it saves.
MeeTimer is essentially a simplified version of RescueTime. Instead of a full blown application, it’s a simple Firefox extension which runs entirely within your browser. Allowing users to sort websites and tasks into certain productivity sets, it’s ideal for checking the amount of time you spend on different websites and online applications. Not Compatible with Firefox 3.5.6
This is the official website/blog of the people behind MeeTimer and GTDInbox, two awesome tools for boosting Firefox productivity. If you’re a fan of their software, check out their blog for update information and ways to contribute your own potential features.
Most productivity extensions aren’t great for saving time, but there are a few that really manage to help their users. This is Mozilla’s official Firefox extension database, and features virtually everything devoted to making Firefox more powerful and productive.
The world’s simplest to-do list. Free of any flashy interface, annoying phone scheduling, or even time-based tasks, NowDoThis is hands down the best to-do list application out there. To save you flicking back and forth from one window to another, save it as a bookmark and configure it to open in a page divider.
LifeHacker is hit and miss. Sometimes it features great tools for saving time and getting things done, but most of the time it’s a time killer itself. If you don’t mind wasting a couple of hours browsing for Firefox extensions, check it out, but please don’t think that you’re becoming more productive by browsing their archives.