De-distractifying my workplace

Quick fixes to increase productivity at work


3 min read

De-distractifying my workplace

I'm the sort of person that likes to have a clean email inbox - I hate having things left unread. Unfortunately, this can mean I am constantly distracted by the need to read every Slack message and email as they come in, which is rather unsustainable in a work context!

I found that making these simple changes made me more productive:

Turning off the "new email" notification symbol in the desktop task bar.

At my work, we use Outlook on Windows OS. By default, Outlook changes its symbol to include an orange envelope when you have a new unread message. Seeing this symbol would give me the irresistible urge to read the new email, so I have found I am better off in bliss ignorance. Now, I only know if I have new emails when I open Outlook specifically (which is still frequent enough that I don't miss anything important).

Not getting pop-up notifications for every Slack channel.

I have changed my Slack settings so that I only get pop-ups for direct messages, direct mentions, or all messages in a couple of important channels. This reduces my feeling of "have I missed anything important" because I get to find out about these automatically, and don't have to go looking. I also changed the pop-ups to only have the name of who posted the message, rather than a preview of the message. This is good for privacy (e.g. when sharing your screen), but also to minimise distraction.

Muting Slack channels with a lot of traffic.

Using the mute feature is essential for busy channels that are only sporadically useful. We have a #cat channel posts a new cat picture every couple of hours, and I was clicking on it far too often because every time I opened Slack, the channel name was in its alluring bold white font again! I've now muted this channel, so I only click on it when I actively want to view cute and fluffy animals (...still quite a lot).

Using Toggl for desktop.

Toggle is an app that tracks how much time you're spending on each task. You have to input what task you're doing manually, and I found that the idea of having to log my "distracted time" put me off being distracted, so I got on with my work. It also has a competitive element for me - like I can have a competition with myself to see how much work I can do today compared to how I did yesterday. For some people this could probably lead to unhealthily long work patterns, but for someone who has the opposite problem (in that I am far too easily persuaded to not do work), I find the competitive aspect helpful.

What techniques do you have for enhancing productivity at work?

Originally written and published on my workplace's intranet in March 2020. Photos: CC BY 3.0 US Mapbox Uncharted ERG