Minimise desktop distractions

Practical tips to reduce digital distractions during work to get more uninterrupted work time.

Desktop distractions are trickier than mobile notifications: they could be important, so you still have to check them.

Tip 1:  Block distracting websites

Avoid getting distracted by your go-to websites

The internet is a great place, but there are a lot of distractions too.

Set up a schedule to block distracting websites during working hours

With Freedom, you can create a schedule to block distracting websites during working hours. Instead of seeing your go-to distracting news website this screen pops up:

Freedom uses a proxy server to block websites - this is not allowed for all companies. Check with your administrator if this tool is allowed.

How to set up Freedom

Create a schedule for blocking ‘fun’ stuff. Set up a schedule from 9 AM - 18 PM to block:

  • News websites
  • Social media (if you’re FB marketer, whitelist business.facebook.com)
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Any other websites that are not work related and distract you

Pro tip: Create a schedule to block email in the morning

To help you defend the morning clarity, block Gmail on desktop from 7AM - 10AM. Besides blocking it on desktop, use Quiet for Gmail to block receiving emails in the morning on mobile too.

Start small & learn what works for you over time

Start small. Don’t block everything all the time. It’s also good to give yourself a break and some distraction - but control those time slots to make sure the time spent doing other things doesn’t escalate. Check social media around lunch time and unblock Instagram between 1PM - 2PM.

Tip 2: Turn off WhatsApp desktop notifications

Avoid getting distracted by WhatsApp (group) notifications

Deep work means you get way more work done. The problem with WhatsApp on Desktop is that you get distracted from the messages coming in.

To be clear: It’s completely fine to read your messages when you’re having a break. It’s probably even faster to reply on a desktop by typing on a real keyboard. 

How to solve getting distracted from Whatsapp during working hours

What you’re trying to accomplish is to batch read the messages. Respond to the messages after you’ve done a deep work block of 90 minutes.

Go inside the desktop app and turn off notifications. You can also turn off the app while you work in deep mode.

Reduce stress and avoid WhatsApp as a communication channel for work

If you use WhatsApp for business communication, I recommend changing it. Using WhatsApp opens the door for responding to it on the weekends too. Read the chapter on communication guidelines later in this guide to set up guidelines for when to use WhatsApp in your team.

Tip 3: Don’t work from your email inbox all day

Email is important, but not urgent (most of the time).

Email contains important work. But usually, it’s other people’s important work. If you respond to every bit of information coming your way, you’ll never work on your own list. The result is that you’ll be stressed, overwhelmed and overworked.

If you work from your inbox, you probably are busy but not contributing to creating a larger impact. For that reason, spending the entire day in your email inbox is a big no-no. The only exception is if you work in customer support or sales. If you don’t know what to work on, set goals and create a list of projects to work on.

Solve this by having fixed times to check email

Set up 3 times a day to check your email, e.g.:

  1. 10AM
  2. After lunch
  3. End of day

If you have a meeting at the time of the email slot, just move it or skip a slot. If you check email twice a day, that’s still good enough.

Pro tip: Don’t open email before 10 AM

If you work the first 60-90 minutes of the day without any interruptions from email, you can accomplish a lot. 

Tip 4: Turn off desktop email notifications

Avoid getting distracted by incoming emails in real-time

Seeing an email from your boss coming in, it’s appealing to have a quick look. The truth is, that it’s better to finish what you’re working on and then read the email.

However, if you’ve seen it come in, you still think about it.

Turn off email desktop notifications to prevent getting distracted

Every notification you receive is a distraction. That holds true for email as well. Although it’s work related, you still get distracted from it.

Stick to the time slots you’ve planned to read email and work on more meaningful work in the meantime.

Tip 5: Turn off ‘Unread message icon' icon in Gmail

Avoid being distracted by the ‘number of unread messages icon’

If you are anything like me, you get distracted by the little red dot with a number inside the browser tab of Gmail.

Solve it by turning off the ‘unread message icon’ inside Gmail

Go to Advanced settings to turn off the unread message icon:

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Tip 6:  Hide your inbox and keep using the Gmail search

Avoid responding to emails outside of ‘email time’ when finding an email

When you work proactively on important work, sometimes you need information from an email like a file, a phone number or an attachment.

What could happen is that you feel the urge to start responding to that one email. Before you know it, you’ve replied to all of your emails and didn’t work on that important task.

Block your inbox view and still use the search functionality 

My inbox looks like this with Inbox when Ready:

The solution is the tool Inbox when Ready. You can still open Gmail and use the search functionality to find the information you need. But all ‘new emails’ are hidden by a screen. If you don’t see the new emails, you can’t get distracted by them.

Note: when you use the free version, a link will be added to all the emails you send out. Trust me: the paid version is worth it!

Tip 7: Avoid distraction by tasks and ideas that pop up in your head

Avoid getting distracted by ideas popping up in your head

A common distraction during deep work are ideas popping up in your head. Just like incoming emails, these ideas are not bad. They’re just timed badly.

Solve it by writing down what pops up and work on it later

If this doesn't happen too often or it’s not too distracting, just write down the ideas that pop up.

Solve this by creating performing a mind-dump

If the things that pop up give you stress or it happens all the time, the best way to solve this is to perform a mind-dump.

Take 30 minutes to write down everything that could be bothering you to clear your head. Read the article on how to perform a mind-dump. After 30 minutes, you will have gained clarity on your priorities and it’s easier to focus on the task at hand.

Tip 8: Use a noise-cancelling headphone

Avoid being distracted by background noise

Noise in the background, like a conversation at a table close to you, can be distracting enough to get you out of focus on important work.

Use noise-cancelling headphones to block out distracting noise

To prevent background distractions, I use noise-cancelling headphones to channel focussing or relaxing music into my head, rather than chitchat or work-space hum.

These are the headphones I use:

Conclusion

Reducing work-related distractions takes discipline and guidelines. Set up rules for yourself when to read and respond to certain messages. Although it might seem hard at first, setting up boundaries actually helps you focus better on important work instead of being busy all the time.

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About Ewoud

Ewoud Uphof

Ewoud Uphof is an experienced Growth Hacker, certified funnel optimiser and investor.

In the past decade he has co-founded multiple companies. As Head of Growth he has helped grow 50+ companies ranging from start-ups to multinationals. He has worked for Camptoo, NU.nl, Sophia Mae, Koffievoordeel and many more.

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