I spend most of my working day on a computer and know that when I am "in the zone" I am extremely productive. Getting to "the zone" is very dependent upon the task itself and environmental distraction in the office (open plan, meetings etc.).
But I also suffer from "tools" like Gmail, Outlook and instant messaging - which are required for my work - but can also get in the way.
I know of suggested techniques like only doing email in the morning but they're mostly not directly applicable as I do need to respond to/process email more frequently than that.
What methods or tools can be used to limit the time on these tools and become more productive?
- Email is very distracting if you are reactive to it. Set a schedule and stick to it: e.g. check emails not more than once an hour; determine the priority of replies/actions to be taken based on new email and only perform the critical ones right away, otherwise "park" them and get back to the task you were doing.
- Make sure you have filters set up in your email to ensure that anything not so important does not get in the way, e.g. use Priority Inbox in Gmail and set filters for newsletters etc so these messages skip the Inbox. Then only check the rest of the email (which has been filtered) at set times (like start and/or end of the day).
- Use Busy and/or Invisible in your IM. Only reply to important messages and again "park" not so important ones (this is easy with Google Talk/Gmail because you can come back to the chat later).
- Separate work and personal IM to eliminate friendly distraction.
- RescueTime is great but don't get obsessed with it. Again, check it only on a regular schedule, i.e. at the start/end of the day/week.
Overall, the best thing you can do is stop being reactive to distractions. Acknowledge, park and come back later when you have time (alloted for this kind of catch up work).
Bonus: If you really want to make your Gmail inbox to be as un-interruptive as possible then set all labels (expect for vitally urgent) to be hidden so you are not bothered by unread counts of other less important labels.
P.S.: I think it's almost a must that you clear out the Inbox to begin with and don't have any unread email in it so you are not tempted to read unread emails from the past. Once you have filters, etc then unread email of lesser importance will be safely hidden from you until the time you can get to it.Tweet