Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Stay on target! Ways to help yourself work

Clockwork egg timer.
Image via Wikipedia

In a previous post we talked about how to keep your brain in tip top condition and staying in the 'zone'. We recommended some simple techniques like removing distracting email, IM or twitter traffic but sometimes the problem isn't staying in the zone, it's getting into the zone in the first place. In this post we recommend some tools and techniques to help you get going. Everybody has different techniques so we'd also like to hear from you about how you beat procrastination and get working.

The internet is a wonderful invention that brings so much information to our fingertips unfortunately it also bring many, many, many distractions. Closing your browser or unplugging your ethernet cable are crude tools that remove too much of the good as well as the bad. What is needed is a more elegant weapon against distraction. Luckily there is Leechblock (as long as you use Firefox) an add-on that helps you avoid temptation by limiting the amount of time you can spend at certain websites. You create a list, or lists, set the time you want it to be active and how long you are allowed to surf in that period. I have it set up so I can look at my 'time sink' websites for 5 minutes every hour between the hours of 9am and 5pm, perfect for checking email while waiting for a build.

RescueTime is a little application, and associated website, that sits on your computer (if it's a PC or a Mac) and monitors which program is active. It then collates all this information together and presents you with a lovely report that shows you you spend 5 hours a day reading the internet. This doesn't make you work but is a real eye opener to where you are actually spending your time. It also allows you to set goals and will remind you both if you fall behind and when you reach the goal. This feature is what really helps you stay on target.

Egg timer
No matter how much you like you job there are those tasks that you just don't want to do. For whatever reason you just can't seem to start them and the longer you leave them the worse they seem. This is where the egg timer comes in. Go get an egg timer (or use this if you don't a real one), set it for ten minutes and start working! The ten minutes gets you going and after that momentum is much easier to maintain. What if you aren't into it after 10 minutes? Do another 10!

Your turn
These are just a few ways that we use to help us concentrate or get going. What do you use? Is it a fancy web app or a simple piece of paper? An gadget or a breathing technique? Please take a second to share them with us!



    Huge help for focusing.

  2. [...] going back to the argument of this post, I think that the tools linked by programming4scientists can be very useful; however, the most effective way to avoid distractions is to work in a good [...]

  3. I am trying LeechBox and it seems to work nice.

    In general, you have posted some very useful tools, but to reduce distractions it is also very important to work well in your team.

    If you know clearly which are your objectives and have frequent feedback from your colleagues you don't get distracted, and if you also share code with them and do pair programming it is better.

    I have replied to this post in my blog, look at the first Trackback below.

  4. There was a time when my concentration levels would be quite high. And I would spend some 6-8 hours studying. But that was before the internet became a common household item. Now it is very difficult to concentrate on anything for more than 15-20 minutes as that browser button is just a click away.

    My way is to remind yourself whenever the mind gets distracted. Remind yourself about your goal and if it is truly important to you, you will get back to work.