I’m not just talking about a project or a report or an email taking longer than you think it should to complete (though that is part of it).
I’m talking about situations like:
- You make a list of what you want to accomplish today
- You flip over to your inbox and see an email that just needs a quick reply
- 10 minutes later you can’t remember why you were in your inbox in the first place, so you go back to your list and start the process over
- An hour later, you want to take a short break, so you tab over to Reddit or Twitter or Medium or the NYTimes and, whoa, how did 50 minutes pass?
Our time is under siege by innumerable external forces. It is time to fight back.
Here are the tools, tactics, and systems that I use to fight the good fight and keep my time and attention where it belongs. I want to understand two things and make three optimizations:
- Where am I actively spending my time? (Things that I know I’m doing, like writing this daily email.).
- Where am I passively spending my time? (Things that I’m doing, but don’t know that I’m doing — like spending 15 hours/week in Slack. Oy.)
- Of the places where I’m passively spending my time (1) how much time am I spending there? (2) do I want to be spending that much time there? (3) how do I block myself from spending time there?
Freckle — Where I’m actively spending my time
Freckle (http://letsfreckle.com) is wonderful time tracking software. I use Freckle to track where I’m actually spending my time during the day.
I’m not perfect at logging my time. No one is when they start. But I’m working to get better at tracking where I’m spending my time.
Freckle lets me know where I’m actively spending my time.
RescueTime — Where I’m passively spending my time
But how do I know where I’m passively spending my time? RescueTime (rescuetime.com) is a free(mium) tool that tracks where you actually spend your time while using your computer. It logs the websites you’re visiting (and for how long) and the applications you’re using (and for how long) and features everything in nifty, easy to read reports.
(This is how I discovered, 3 months ago, that I was spending 16 hours/week in Slack. I mean, I love Slack, but I don’t ‘spend two full working days a week in there’ love Slack).
RescueTime lets me understand where I’m passively spending my time. If the time I’m logging in Freckle is time that I’m spending intentionally on things, then the time that RescueTime shows me using is time that I’m passively spending on things.
Let’s call this ‘Dark Time’ as an allusion to ‘Dark Matter.’
Freedom — Block terrible, horrible internet websites
I use freedom.to to block sites that I don’t want to visit. Reddit. Twitter. HackerNews. These are the bane of my existence. I use Freedom to create a custom, personalized block list (that works across desktop, tablet, and phone) and blocks me from visiting the sites I say I don’t want to visit.
It is a very good tool.
So, with Freckle I know where I’m actively spending my time (I’m 15 minutes into writing this letter to you, my friend). With RescueTime I know where I’m passively spending my time.
Then, if I decide the sites where I’m passively spending my time (Reddit, HackerNews, Medium, Mark Rosewater’s Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook…) are sites that I do not want to spend my time on, I add them to my Freedom block list.
And then… I’m free!
Inbox When Ready — Make your Gmail inbox slightly less bad
Sometimes I need to access my inbox, but I don’t want to see my inbox. Why? Because if I see my inbox I will think “I need to reply to these emails now” and then I lose an hour responding to what is immediately in front of me instead of doing the work that I intended to do.
Inbox When Ready is a Chrome add-on for Gmail that hides your inbox until you click the nice little ‘Show me my inbox’ button. It makes it much easier to use Gmail without immediately thinking “I need to reply to these emails now”
You can install Inbox When Ready here: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/inbox-when-ready-for-gmai/cdedhgmbfjhobfnphaoihdfmnjidcpim
Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator — Make your Facebook 100% less bad
Sometimes I need to access Facebook for secret reasons. When I do, I dislike seeing the timeline, so I block it using the Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator.
Shutup.css — I Hate Comments; Remove them from the web
Comments are a terrible, horrible bad place — and I lose minutes and hours reading them. So, now I don’t.
Shutup.css is a CSS stylesheet from the wonderful Steven Frank, made into Chrome and Safari extensions (and an iOS app) by Ricky Romero.
Shutup removes the comments from your web. It is wonderful. It is peaceful. It is quiet. It is good.
Okay, your turn: what’s an app, system, tool, or service you use to make sure you’re spending your time and attention on the important times? Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know.
p.s., I just landed in Puerto Rico and oh my gosh the ocean feels like warm bath water and everything smells tropical. It is beautiful here. I’ve lived in Hawaii and visited Costa Rica, two of my favorite places on the planet. Puerto Rico ranks up there with the best of them.