Practical Tools To Eliminate Your Blind Spots

Now we’ve dug deep into why you procrastinate and you’ve seen your productivity blind spots, let’s move back to the surface and look at some common trouble spots which seem to attract procrastination all by themselves.

If you recall the Eisenhower/Covey Matrix, you may remember that ‘Interruptions’ featured in Quadrant 3 (Urgent But Not Important)…

decision-matrix

Many of us use interruptions to procrastinate without realising it; we allow ourselves to be distracted and interrupted by things which may be urgent and appear important but which often aren’t.

Below you’ll find a number of tools to help you minimise or even eliminate these interruptions and distractions to allow you to get on with the most important work…

Email

If you’re already dragged down by a heaving inbox, use Unroll.me to manage all your subscriptions and newsletter emails. It is one of my *must have* tools to keep on top of my own inbox and can instantly help you stem the tide.

To process emails languishing in your inbox, try the Email Game. It makes the process of dealing with your email that tiny bit more fun and leaves you little time to faff.

If all else fails, declare email bankruptcy. If deleting everything feels a bit too radical for you, create a separate folder or label, mark all remaining email as ‘read’, and then file/archive every single email currently in your inbox, to leave you with a completely blank slate. Ahhhhh, now that feels good, doesn’t it?

Once your inbox is under control, then ensure you use Unroll.me to keep it that way, as well as filters, canned responses and, most importantly, establishing good email processing habits.

How to use filters: Filters can be used to automatically process certain emails that you don’t necessarily need to read/process manually. Useful filters for Gmail/Google Apps users include:

  • Process payment receipts from Paypal: Identify emails that come from service@paypal.com (check the email address you usually receive payment receipts from) > Mark as read > Skip the inbox > Apply the label e.g. “Receipts”.
  • Delete notifications you don’t need to see: Identify emails that come from address notifications > Delete it.
  • Prioritise and label emails from certain clients: Identify emails that come from specific client addresses > Apply the label > Always mark it as important.

How to use canned responses: If you find yourself frequently sending the same kind of responses and answers to emails, it can be useful to create “Canned responses” which enable you to instantly paste in a pre-typed response and hit send. This can save you a massive amount of time. You’ll find this setting in the Labs section of your Gmail/Google Apps settings.

Good email habits: Regularly declaring email bankruptcy is not a good email habit 😉 Better habits to cultivate* include:

  • Scheduling a daily processing time to manage your emails and sticking to it. Many productivity gurus will tell you NOT to process your emails first thing in the morning. I do! But I do it with boundaries so that I do not get sucked into dealing with them all day. I spend 20-30 minutes processing emails that I’ve marked/starred for that day and then leave the rest for another time. It means that I can carry on with my other work knowing I’ve dealt with anything that feels like it’s hanging over my head, without being sucked into dealing with non-urgent/newly received emails.
  • Get into the habit of unsubscribing from emails you never read.
    Unroll.me is good for this and is a more positively karmic** way than marking something as SPAM, especially if you did actually sign up for it in the first place.
  • Find a system that works for you with Labels/Folders.
    I use labels to help prioritise emails to process; it’s a little bit like creating a Personal Kanban flow in my inbox – I have a label for emails that need processing in the next few days, priority emails that need processing within 24 hours and reference emails that I need to keep for reference at a later date but that don’t need processing right now. I then combine this with the Multiple Inbox feature in Gmail to give me a customised view.
  • Explore other tools that automatically help you keep emails to a minimum.
    Check out tools like Slack and HipChat to communicate internally with a team, or even specific clients. It keeps all conversations in one place and means you’re not overwhelmed with hundreds of emails when needing a lot of back and forth about a project or task. I have internal HipChat rooms as well as specific private rooms for clients – and the online Office we use for this course is also a HipChat room.

* The “Don’t break the chain” technique is a good technique to use for this.

** When you practice email marketing for your own business, you’ll know how frustrating it is when people mark your emails as SPAM even though they signed up for them. It’s lazy and bad practice; please respect your fellow entrepreneurs and unsubscribe instead of marking them as SPAM. By all means mark something as SPAM, if you don’t ever recall subscribing to it however.

Phone Calls

Managing phone calls requires YOU to change your mindset and behaviour around them. While you can use services that reroute all calls to a mobile so you don’t need to be tied to an office, the goal here is to NOT let yourself be interrupted or distracted by unscheduled calls that you are not expecting.

My own rules include:

  • I NEVER pick up the phone if I don’t recognise the number; if it’s important or urgent, they’ll leave a message.
  • I NEVER pick up the phone if a number is withheld; if it’s important or urgent, they’ll leave a message.
  • I SOMETIMES pick up the phone from friends and family if they call at unarranged times. Again, if it’s important I know they’ll leave a message and I can call them straight back.
  • I ALWAYS pick up the phone from certain people – like my husband and a small number of friends.

I also take measures to prevent unscheduled and unwanted phone calls, including:

  • I RARELY give out my mobile phone number.
  • If I *have* to share a number but don’t want to give my mobile number, I share a SkypeIn number.
  • I frequently tell people that I rarely use my phone for phone calls and that email is typically the best way to reach me.

All of the above mean that I am almost never interrupted by unexpected phone calls.

Meetings

You have far more control over this when you run your own business and my rule of thumb is don’t organise or attend them unless you absolutely can’t avoid them.

Tools such as HipChat and Slack can drastically reduce the need for meetings, and help everyone communicate efficiently no matter where you/they are.

If you do need to schedule meetings, minimise the back and forth needed to confirm a date/time with tools such as YouCanBook.Me or Calendly.

Web Surfing, Social Media & Other Distractions

If your self control is lacking and you need to focus for a sustained period of time – a Pomodoro, perhaps! – use a tool such as Freedom, Self Control App (Mac) or Cold Turkey (Windows) to block apps, programmes and websites.

Recommended Resources

–  a summary list of all the resources mentioned:

This is part of our FREE Personal Productivity email course.
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