Rescuing My Time


I like to minimise doing tasks that cannot be categorised as focused uses of my time. Work time is for my 9-5 job, relaxation time is for recovering my energy, time with family and friends is to  maintain the bond with those I am close to. The time in between these major categories goes to things like learning, taking care of our home and myself. In between everything are many precious minutes that, when left unfocused, can tick away, minutes spent aimlessly wandering through social media networks or checking notifications and emails.

There are a couple of things that I have done to minimise distraction as I focus my energy on living my life. These things are not difficult, but they do still take discipline and effort.


It used to be that I could only talk to my friends if they were at home and I either went to their house or called them on the phone. If it was dinner time at their house I had to wait before we could talk about whatever it is kids talk about (building backyard forts or bicycle exploration missions in our case). The answering machine made it easy to catch and replay messages from friends who called when I was away from home, so I could call them back and we could talk about hanging out at the mall or about homework. When pagers became affordable, I could be reached anywhere my car took me after school and on weekends. I always responded quickly, whether there was a ‘911’ added to the number or not.

My first iPhone was like a miracle in communication technology. At my fingertips I could be reached by phone, email or text message. I could even listen to music! Smartphones evolved and apps proliferated. At a glance on your screen you could see any of your missed calls, any text messages or messages from apps that might be of interest to you.

Now all the messages on my screen are less convenient as more of them appear. I’ve managed to happily avoid the “smart watch” hype, not wanting to give notifications another place to vy for my attention.

The solution to minimising my distraction has been simple – turn them off! I have dedicated times during the day for doing things like checking email or social networks, and turning off notifications for these apps means I more easily stick to those times. I do still check my phone every once in a while during the day, but mostly to see if I have any missed calls, and much less than when I had the phone blink an LED at me every time someone posted a thing on Twitter or Facebook.

How you turn notifications off will vary depending on your device but the premise is the same – every app should have a setting to let you choose if you want to receive push notifications or not. Another step that I take is to turn my phone’s alert sounds off, even vibration. This way the phone doesn’t control my time – I control when I check my phone. Try it, it’s liberating.

Rescue Time

I have accounts on multiple social networks, but Facebook is the one I find the most distracting. My family and I don’t live in the same city so I use it to check on them, and it has thus become my default distraction.

Almost reflexively, and especially on days when I’m tired, I find myself on Facebook multiple times during the day. I Alt+Tab over to Chrome, hit Ctrl+t, then type “face” and then Enter. Most of the time when this happens it’s like opening the fridge and expecting something new to appear – it’s unsatisfying and not a very smart use of my time.

I’ve tried all sorts of things to mitigate my Facebook usage. Chrome plugins of all sorts, pausing my account, even removing the app from my phone and making the password long and difficult (though easily circumvented with LastPass). Inevitably I am lured back, by the need to interact with a Facebook page to use Facebook’s API, a friend asking if I could respond to an invite, or missing family and wondering what they are up to right now.

Recently I installed Rescue Time on my laptop and smartphone. With it I can see how every minute of my computer and device time is used. I can also categorise how productive or distracting those uses are, which means I can generate a report on how I used my time yesterday or last week.

One of my more productive days last week, captured in Rescue Time.

In Rescue Time I can choose which applications or visited domains on my computer and smartphone can be categorised as “Productive” or “Distracting”. Setting this up took a day or two of defining categories and small tweaking on the fly. I barely touch it now except to review when I reflect on my day before I get ready for bed.

I even have a browser notification setup (one of my few) to let me know when I’ve spent an hour of time on “Distracting” tasks, and the goal of keeping my distracted time to under 2hrs a day setup. If I miss this goal, Rescue Time lets me know and I feel bad. So far it’s working, I’ve even subscribed to their paid service.

What distracts you when you are trying to be productive, and how do you maximise your productivity? I’m always tweaking the systems I work in and would love to hear some of your ideas.

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