Working independently and on a machine which is connected to the internet that provides hours of procrastination-encouraging stuff isn't always that easy. Sometimes you just drift off of that new line of code you wanted to implement, just because someone tweeted about this new fancy piece of Apple device he or she just bought. Several minutes later, you often don't even remember how you ended up watching that youtube video in which unicorns and monkeys playing chess together.

Sounds familiar? Now don't be afraid, I'm here to help you. I've 5 essentials tips for you on how you can prevent yourself from falling into this situation again.

1. Turn off vibration on your mobile phone

This one saved me a lot of time. Turn off vibration for the most disturbing features/apps your phone possesses. In my case I've disabled vibration for the following apps on my iPhone:

  • SMS
  • WhatsApp (I even disabled all notifications because of some group conversation I'm in)
  • Mail
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare
  • Instagram

I haven't disabled vibration when someone is calling me. When I don't want to be disturbed by a phone call I put my iPhone into the Do not disturb mode. If your phone doesn't have such a feature you can, of course, disable the vibration for the calling feature too.

2. The rule of three

The rule of three is one of my creations which helped me a lot lately. The basic idea behind it is to have only three applications open at a time. When I'm developing I only use a Terminal (iTerm) a Browser (Google Chrome) and a music application (Spotify). Whereas the music application isn't work related but has its own purpose (more about this in tip #3). I know this isn't possible for every use case and if you need four applications, go along with four.

The value of doing this goes beyond the number of open applications. It helps you to recognize which apps are supporting your workflow and which apps don't. Since I'm using this approach, I never got interrupted by a new Tweet or Chat message.

3. Wear headphones and listen to music

Wearing headphones can improve your productivity in two ways.

The first one is that people who are in the same room as you (e.g. when you're working at a startup or in a coworking office) don't just walk up to you and disturb you. The fact that you're wearing headphones can be a sign that you are concentrating and don't want to be interrupted. Unfortunately there are a lot of old school companies out there which think you should not be listening to music on both ears, because if someone wants to ask you a question from the other side of the room, you don't hear them. I think this is bullshit but you'll have to arrange it with the people you're working with.

The second improvement is the music itself. Music can put you in a certain way of consciousness which improves your concentration and speed on what you're working on right now. I don't know if this is true for you, but for me this effect only appears when I'm listening to music which has no lyrics or vocals in it (there are of course a few exceptions). Because of this I've created a playlist which I'm listening to when I'm programming or writing blog articles (like this one). But when you're listening to music while working, be sure that your music application (Spotify, iTunes or whatever) isn't disturbing you. Hit the play button and then hide it somewhere where it doesn't come into your way.

Another improvement here is, that you don't have to listen to music you don't like (because you're wearing headphones). Create your own playlist and if you want to, share it in the comments below.

4. Write a Todo list

Todo lists are essential to keep your productivity on a certain level. This tip assumes, that you're already using Todo lists and aim to improve the use of it. If you never used a Todo list before, here is a short introduction (the chapter Set weekly and daily goals is what you're looking for).

After some time using Todo lists, you might find yourself not doing it on a daily basis anymore or maybe you just want to improve them a little bit more. This list should bring you a step closer to your goal:

  • Wrting Tasks down should be easy. You can only achieve this goal with the right collection of tools. I've used Evernote a long time for my Todo lists but in the end it wasn't the best tool for writing down tasks and checking them, because it took to long. At the moment I'm using good ol' pen and paper. I've buyed a moleskin notebook and always carry it with me when I'm working. Maybe pen and paper isn't the best solution for you, but what I want to say is, try different tools and find out what best fits you.
  • Write everything down what you have done through the day even if it's not on the list. This approach is called the ToDone list. More here.
  • Mark the three most important tasks of the day and do them right at the beginning of the day. Try to do these three tasks before the half time of your working day (normally lunch). If these three tasks need more time, split them into multiple tasks until you manage to do them before lunch. This will help you to improve your time management and to evaluate which tasks need a certain amount of time.

5. Be disciplined

The last and most important lesson I want to give you in these 5 tips is about habits. All these tips above will be useless (not necessarily applicable for tip #1 and #3) for you if you're not going to use them on a regular basis. Which means every day. If you do them every day you can manage to build up habits and the good thing about habits is, that you can't delete them. So once you have achieved to build up your habits for writing Todo lists or checking how many applications are running on your computer before starting to work you will manage to improve your productivity like never before. But from nothing comes nothing. So you need to discipline yourself. If you don't have any problems with discipline and don't need any help for that. Bravo. You can stop reading now, because you will apply these previous 4 tips without any problem. But if not, go on.

Building up habits isn't always that easy and to minimize the range of failure I'm going to introduce to you Jerry Seinfeld's Productivity Secret. It is called Don't break the chain!. The idea behind it is to create a list of certain tasks you're going to repeat on a daily basis. My list for example looks like this:

  • Draw something
  • Shoot at least one usable picture
  • Programming
  • Read for 30 minutes
  • etc.

Now what do you have to do with this list? Easy, you can do it the ol' school way and print out a huge calendar for every task and put in a big red cross on every day you've done a specific task. If you don't like to print out that much paper, there are also a few applications out there to achieve the same result. E.g. Don't break the chain is a simple web application which lets you mark the specific days you worked on a task. My humble self is using chains.cc. It has a fancy design and they also have an iOS app.

If you're going to use this method it can (and I believe it will) help you to stay focused on the tips above and many other things for a long time and hopefully you will build up habits in the end.

TL;DR

So let's recap these 5 tips in a short list:

  • Turn off vibration for distracting apps on your mobile phone
  • Try to have only three running applications at a time while you're working
  • Wear headphones and listen to music which helps you concentrating
  • Write todo lists and complete the three main tasks until lunch
  • Do these 4 tips above every day, motivate yourself with a technique like Don't break the chains

That's it. Try this tips out and if you've any additional tips or do things differently please let me know in the comments. Constructive critic is very welcome. Thank you.