In 2018 research by RescueTime found that the average knowledge worker checks their emails every 6 minutes!
This is quite a depressing stat, but sadly not that surprising. I’ve often found myself bogged down in emails and ‘running the business’ rather than actually doing my work. In fact it has sometimes felt like running my business revolves around clearing my email inbox instead of working towards any greater purpose.
Recently, I felt it was finally time for some more extreme measures and separate my production software (such as design and coding tools) from my emails and other distracting dopamine dispensers.
After pondering my options for a while my original idea was to actually go as far as buying a separate second hand laptop. However the practicality of having to store and lug around another machine as well as the cost put me off.
Sometime later I realised I could actually just create a second user profile on my MacBook and split my software between them.
Production and management user profiles
My current setup is this:
Profile 1: Production
- Design software (Adobe Creative Suite)
- Development Server (MAMP) and build tools (Sublime Text, Hyper and a few more)
- Hosting access and FTP manager
- Logins for the sites I look after
- Project management software (Trello)
- Shared Drive (ProtonDrive)
- Music (Spotify)
Profile 2: Management and marketing
- LinkedIn (as a further deterrant, any time I wish to go on LinkedIn I must manually enter a complicated password)
- Microsoft Office suite (for opening any supplied content)
- Shared Drive
- Fathom Analytics and Google Search Console (arguably these should do in the Production profile but I feel obliged to check them too often)
- Video calls
- Calendar bookings
The general idea is the production profile only has the tools required to DO THE WORK and non of the distracting stuff I would normally compulsively check when my mind wanders.
The two key linking elements are the project management software Trello and the shared drive.
I check emails in the morning, lunch and at the end of the day. I can then register any tasks and notes on the relevant projects Trello board and upload any supplied assets to the shared drive.
When working in the production profile, I have access to only the information (in Trello) and files (in the shared drive) I need for the tasks at hand. I also avoid the risk of being redirected/distracted/stressed seeing any new emails.
If I wish to check messages out of the set times, I first have to weigh up whether it’s worth the effort of closing down all the design and development software I have open (which is often quite a lot), switching profiles and then firing it all up again afterwards. Adding this amount of extra resistance is surprisingly effective for helping focus on my work.
- I am fortunate that despite email being my businesses primary method of communication, it’s very rare that anything truly urgent will be sent via email.
- The nature of my work usually means it’s pretty rare to need to speak to me urgently at all.
- I generally encourage clients to book any catchup calls themselves via my calendar software rather than arranging over email, though still pondering whether to tell people to call me if they want a quick chat (which possibly opens the door to a different type of distraction!).
- In a perfect world clients could also add feature requests into Trello themselves too instead of emailing but I wouldn’t expect anyone to do this when emailing is usually more convenient for them.
How does it work in practice
This new setup has been a great success for helping focus on my work. When concentrating, I feel ‘safe’ from outside distractions. Furthermore, the more addictive tools are hidden away enough to avoid using them.
Instead of being able to do ALL THE THINGS (and therefore struggling to do any of them) I can by design only do the things I need to do.