KG Productivity Tips Series, #1: Minimizing Distractions

The topic of productivity needs no fancy introduction — everyone who runs or has stake in a business worries about it, and everyone wants to be better at it. At Ketner Group, we take pride in our balance between productivity and play, because, well, you know what they say about all work and no play. Below, a few of the Ketner Groupies have shared our favorite productivity tips. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll cover what works to keep us organized and on-task.

Brittany: Multitasking Doesn’t Work, Sorry
The first step of recovery is to admit you have a problem, and the problem in this case is multitasking. I have learned—the hard way—that I am not much of a multitasker. Sure, the human brain is capable of some multitasking, like listening to the radio while driving or stirring a cooking dinner while talking on the phone. But it turns out that multitasking in the office doesn’t work very well (and it’s not just me!), and there’s a lot of science to prove it. In a Time magazine article, writer Claudia Wallis explains the research: when people try to tackle multiple tasks at once, “or [alternate] rapidly between them, errors go way up and it takes far longer—often double the time or more—to get the jobs done than if they were done sequentially.” Worse still, research from the University of North Texas found that multitaskers actually lose time because “the brain is compelled to restart and refocus” as it switches gears.

Instead of trying to knock out five projects every five or 10 minutes, admit to yourself that multitasking doesn’t improve your game and discipline yourself to dedicate larger blocks of time for each project. Remove environmental distractions such as the Internet, a cluttered workspace or verbal interruptions.

Valerie: Pomodoro Technique + Focus Booster
Listen up, all recovering multi-taskers! This one’s for you. When Francesco Cirillo was at university in Rome, one day he picked up a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato (“pomodoro” in Italian) and decided to “challenge his powers of concentration.” Enter the Pomodoro Technique. The basic idea is that you pick a specific task to complete, set a timer to 25 minutes, work on that task until the timer rings, and then give yourself a check on a piece of paper. Then, take a five-minute break and repeat the process with a different task, up to three more times, and then take a longer break.

If you don’t have an adorable tomato timer sitting around (I certainly didn’t), give the Focus Booster app a try. It’s available on Windows and Mac OSX and is built with Adobe Air specifically for the Pomodoro technique. You can choose whether or not to keep the light tick-tock sound — but let me tell you, you’d better have your headphones on or you’ll have some glaring co-workers!

Eric: White noise and OmmWriter
When it’s time to hunker down and get some work done, nothing helps me focus like white noise. Simple Noise offers a browser-based solution with white, pink and brown noise and the option to oscillate the volume. If the sound of digital static doesn’t sooth you, perhaps the more natural sounds of waves crashing on a beach will help keep your mind on task. K-MusicLife’s YouTube channel has some good selections, though I have gotten strange looks from co-workers at the sounds of whales singing or birds squawking escaping my earphones.

If you need to write, the best tool I’ve discovered for distraction-free content creation is OmmWriter. This mega-minimal word processor designed to return what “technology has snatched away from us today: our capacity to concentrate,” takes over the entire screen, hiding your email, browser and the million other things waiting to trip up your productivity, with an easy-on-the-eyes and barely there interface and a selection of productivity-boosting soundscapes.

How do you stay productive? Post it in the comments!