In his book Deep Work, author Cal Newport says that the most valuable skill these days is the ability to focus withouth distraction, for a long time, on cognitively demanding tasks. When i read the book in the beginning of this year, i began a journey of optimizing my work - and thus increasing the amount of time spent in a deep work state. I found myself more productive and also needing way less time on complicated tasks than before.
A key part of this is minimizing distractions. It took me some time (and i'm still tuning my setup constantly) but i'd like to share how i do it.
Stowing the phone away
For me, my smartphone is a huge distraction: i get texts, notifications about news and i also regularly pick it up to browse social media feeds.
Stowing the phone away during the day and not picking it up during work is extremely liberating and helped me a lot to not get distracted that easily.
Noise cancelling headphones
This is an obvious one. Unless you work from home, where you're not sharing your office with anyone else, you should use noise cancelling headphones. They will drown out all the background noise and help you become way more focused.
I personally have the Airpods Pro, with which i'm very content, but there are other good ones as well, like for example the Sony WH-1000XM4. Just make sure that you get the chance to try them out before you buy them.
Communicate available times
If you want to become indistractable, you have to make sure that those people that might depend on you know about your schedule. If you work from home, let your spouse or your family know when you plan to get some deep work done and that they don't disturb you if it's not neccessary. Having a sign that you can put up is also helpful.
For your colleagues it can also make sense to put "Deep Work" blocks in your calendar - signaling that you don't have time for meetings or other disturbances. If you're using Slack you might put your status as "Do Not Disturb".
There is a key tool i use to block all digital distractions and it's called Focus. Unfortunately it only works on macOS and i don't know of an alternative that runs on Windows/Linux machines. If you know one, please let met know and i'll link to it.
Focus let's you block applications and websites that might distract you from your work. I do have a few applications that i use for work but which still distract me. One of those is Slack: i tend to open it every time i see that red notification icon - although most of the messages don't concern me personally and are just in some random channel i happen to be part of.
If you block an application like Slack or Mail, it's important that you check with your colleagues and/or boss beforehand if it's alright with them. Not being available when you should is not advisable and can lead to even more stress than before. I currently check my messages in the morning, over noon and at the end of my work day.
That's why i set the following schedule in Focus:
Because i have blocked a few applications, those get closed automatically when the schedule starts. Because i sometimes forgot to check them again when the schedule ended, i used the Scripting feature of Focus to open them in the "When Focus stops" hook:
open /Applications/Slack.app open /System/Applications/Mail.app
Focus costs 19$ for the basic version which for me includes everything that i need. It is easily the most valuable tool for my production.