Posts Tagged ‘productivity’

Time offline: does it work?

A little bit ago, I talked about my frustration at online distractions getting in the way of focusing more deeply on work. I resolved to try using a program called Freedom to stay offline and get more done: it worked wonders during my EngD write-up.

Alas, it’s not quite so helpful now. I’m still glad I have it, but it only helps when you have a focused offline task, like writing a paper (or a thesis!). There are still online aspects even to that (popping onto the ACM Digital Library to double check a reference, or emailing a co-author about such-and-such) but it’s primarily about sitting down, writing, rewriting, and editing.

Of course, now I’m doing my postdoc I’m in a very different position to last winter, when my One Focus In Life was to Write The Damned Thesis. Nowadays I have articles to write, but also experiments to run, DESIRE’11 to look after, presentations to prepare and so forth. It’s not quite so straightforward!

So I think my main revision to the plan is this: use Freedom liberally when writing papers, but otherwise simply don’t leave communications mechanisms (email, Twitter, IRC) running in the background. Maybe check ’em two or three times a day (start, middle, end?). I predict I’ll end up in my inbox way more often than that — work often requires that I check past correspondence or ping off fresh emails — but we’ll see.

I’m glad I’m spending a small amount of time thinking about this stuff. I’ll figure out a strategy sooner or later!


Life in the digital age: I need to get offline!

I am less focused than I’d like to be. The internet is a wonderful, amazing tool, but it’s a pain in the ass sometimes!

Do you ever get those days where you’re busy and not slacking all day, but by the end of it you feel that the sum total of your achievementsn was to have tackled your email and done some little jobs?

It seems to me that too many of my days are like that, lately. It’s important I’m responsive to email, of course (not least when communications chair for a conference in the not-too-distant future!), but when I leave my mail application running, I find it hard not to treat each incoming email as a high-priority interrupt. Which is clearly ridiculous.

In addition, the people I follow on Twitter provide me with all manner of useful and interesting links to articles and news that’re relevant to my work. All the time. Without a break.

So what to do?

I wrote my EngD up fast. Really fast. I had a job offer starting on 1st January this year, and it was conditional upon having my thesis in the bag by that date. I don’t think I wrote about it at the time (I was too busy writing the damn thesis!), but one of the most useful tools in my Thesis Writing Arsenal was a ten-dollar piece of software called Freedom. It provides a very simple service: it cuts you off from the interwebs for a given period of time, anything from 15 minutes to 8 hours. Once it’s initiated, the only way to get online (apart from waiting out the time period) is to reboot your computer.

I felt a bit silly using it — I could close my email, web browser and Twitter, or indeed kill the wifi! — but somehow it worked in a way that other things didn’t. I got a tonne done!

So here’s my new resolution: I’m going to aim to use Freedom for two two-hour chunks of time per working day. Meetings count as time offline (luckily, they’re few and far between at the mo).

I’ll let you know how I get on.