Productivity Hacking: The Source of Distractedness

This is the seventeenth post in a series on productivity1. The articles are based on content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.


It seems there are an increasing number of people raising concerns about the mental consequences that digital devices have on us, specifically our attention spans and ability to maintain focus. I’ve written about this before2:

Whether it’s an email notification or a habit of checking Twitter in the middle of a hard task that taxes your mind, each time we entertain a distraction it guts our productivity in a way that’s hard to perceive experientially. Quite literally, hours of focused work can slip away from us and we don’t notice (except for not feeling productive or wishing we’d accomplished more).

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1. You can read the story behind this blog series and find links to all of the resources here.2. You can read my article about focus, titled, Productivity Requires Harnessing Focus, here.

Quick Takes: More Productivity Snake Oil

Posted on Sep 8, 2016 in Productivity, Quick Takes | No Comments

Yesterday I Tweeted about my blog post on what productivity snake-oil looks like3. One of my good friends pointed me towards a great interview4 with a very successful blogger (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings), by a very successful personality (Tim Ferris).

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1. You can read my post about what productivity snake-oil looks like here.2. You can listen to Tim Ferris’ interview with Maria Popova (about her blog Brain Pickings), on the Four Hour Workweek website.

Productivity Hacking: What Snake-oil Looks Like

This is the sixteenth post in a series on productivity5. This article adds to content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.


I took a few minutes this week to cull through a backlog of blog post ideas and found a few screenshots of what I call ‘productivity snake-oil.’

I’ve written at length about the fact that finding new productivity to use is counter to productivity6, but recognizing snake-oil ‘in the wild’ is helpful because, well, companies are spending lots of money to convince you their product is a balm for your to-do-list pains.

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1. You can read the story behind this blog series and find links to all of the resources here.2. You can read my post called “Myths of Productivity: Finding the Right Tools,” here.

Productivity Hacking: Notifications as Distraction-by-Default

This is the fifteenth post in a series on productivity7. This article adds to content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.


In college I had a professor who, for many years, held an executive position at one of the largest advertising agencies in the world. Everyone loved his class because theory collided with decades of experience and practical advice.

Several lessons he taught us probably skimmed the surface initially because of our lack of age and experience, but, looking back, were they were extremely valuable bits of wisdom that I wish I’d paid more attention to. One story I’ll never forget. As he rose in the ranks at the agency, my professor had made a promise to his family: “no matter when or where or what meeting I’m in, if you call and ask for me, I’ll be available to you.” The man walked out of the most important meetings with the most important clients to take calls from his family.

I’m not such a luddite that I would exchange the powers of modern communication and technology for an age of landlines and secretaries, but part of me envies a clear way to separate signal from noise (if these three people contact me, answer, always).

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1. You can read the story behind this blog series and find links to all of the resources here.

Myths of Productivity: Finding the Right Tools

This is the fourteenth post in a series on productivity8. The articles are based on content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.


I can think of several times in my life where I’ve purchased something because I thought that having it would catalyze behavioral change. We’ve all been there in different ways—a new notebook will make us a more prolific writer, a new camera will make us a better photographer, and so-on.

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1. You can read the story behind this blog series and find links to all of the resources here.

Myths of Productivity: Keeping Up

This is the thirteenth post in a series on productivity9. The articles are based on content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.


In this series we’ve talked about distractions, focus, triage and more. One driver of all of behind unproductive behaviors in all of those areas is the idea that we need to “keep up” with what’s going on. Now, I do believe it’s valuable to build an understanding of our place in history and what goes on in our world (developing a worldview, if you will). More often than not, though, instead of proactively building knowledge, I find myself dealing with an ambiguous fear of “being behind.”

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1. You can read the story behind this blog series and find links to all of the resources here.

Productivity Requires Producing More than You Consume

This is the twelfth post in a series on productivity10. The articles are based on content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.


In our historical moment, nothing is easier than scrolling through endless posts of the work that other people are doing. I said before that information has always been an available distraction, but it could be argued that we’ve never had easier access to such an immense amount of content. Living in such an environment tends to shift our default setting to consumption.

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1. You can read the story behind this blog series and find links to all of the resources here.

Productivity Requires the Art of Triage

This is the eleventh post in a series on productivity11. The articles are based on content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.


One subtly difficult part of being productive is that even if you’re treating your body and mind well, have created a distraction-free environment and harnessed your focus, it can be hard to simply figure out what to do.

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1. You can read the story behind this blog series and find links to all of the resources here.

Productivity Requires Harnessing Focus

This is the tenth post in a series on productivity12. The articles are based on content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.


In the last post in this series, I discussed the necessity of removing distractions. Here’s an excerpt13:

Whether it’s an email notification or a habit of checking Twitter in the middle of a hard task that taxes your mind, each time we entertain a distraction it guts our productivity in a way that’s hard to perceive experientially. Quite literally, hours of focused work can slip away from us and we don’t notice (except for not feeling productive or wishing we’d accomplished more).

Removing distractions, though, is only half of the equation. Removing distractions creates a context for productivity, but beyond that, the act doesn’t produce anything. In other words, when the distractions are gone, it’s time to get to work.

Multi-tasking is a myth

One of the focus-killers I observe most often is multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is the idea that we can do more than one thing at once. What makes this concept difficult relative to productivity is that our experience in life proves that in many situations, we *can* perform more than one activity at the same time. From actions as simple as walking and talking on the phone to more complex performances like preparing the ingredients of a complicated meal ‘simultaneously’.

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1. You can read the story behind this blog series and find links to all of the resources here.2. You can read the last post in this series, Productivity Requires Removing Distractions, here.

Productivity Requires Removing Distractions

This is the ninth post in a series on productivity14. The articles are based on content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.

Much of this material is taken from a post I wrote in a different series.15


I believe that the number one killer of productivity for most people is distraction. That may sound like a self-evident statement, but the actual mechanics of distraction, as well as expectations of ‘normal’ behavior in our society, are subtle enough that many of us don’t actually feel distraction when it’s happening—and might not even label it as such.

Like it or not, we live in a world where the battle for our attention is more fierce than ever. Don’t worry, I’m not going to lament the loss of simpler life in times past or say that Twitter is ruining our brains—there are much smarter people who have explored the complexity of distraction and the decline of attention spans16.

I also don’t need scientific studies to feel constant tugging at my attention from a hundred different directions. Some of that is simply life: managing home, work, relationships and more can be complicated. Distractions don’t have to be digital—this is a human condition no matter what the circumstance or context.

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1. You can read the story behind this blog series and find links to all of the resources here.2. You can read the original post on distraction here.3. Here are a slew of articles on the subject: Wired on Digital Overload, Nicholas Carr on The Web Shattering Focus, the Telegraph on our attentions span decreasing to only 5 minutes, the Wall Street Journal on ending the age of inattention and the Washington Times on how TV rewires children’s brains.

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