Not productive enough? Turn off the Internet

Four weeks ago I had 5,250 emails in my inbox. Today? 10.

What’s the difference? I’ve been on lots of airplanes in the past month. Why is that important? Because in airplanes there’s no Internet. Nothing to distract you. I find I can answer about 10x more email in a plane than I can on the ground when the Internet is there to distract me.

That taught me an important lesson.

Want to get something done? Turn off Twitter. Turn off Facebook. Turn off blog comments. Turn off FriendFeed. Turn off Flickr. Turn off YouTube. Turn off Dave Winer’s blog and Huffington Post. Turn off TechMeme.

Turn off the distractions.

Another datapoint? When I talked with Linda Stone a couple months ago (she came up with the term “continuous partial attention” which describes the kind of world we live in when we have Twitter bringing a new post to us every two seconds).

I told her I had one goal in my life, other than to be a good father and a better husband: to have an interesting conversation every day.

She said that was “attention management” at its highest form she’d heard it so far.

What are your goals? Is it to have more followers on Twitter? Or is it to get something done today?

Why can’t we get into the productive state of mind that being trapped in an airplane for 10 hours without the Internet causes?

I just sent 200 emails that I answered over the Atlantic. What a flow state I was in.

Something about being bored causes us to be more productive. Luckily I have lots more trips coming up soon, so I’ll keep up with my email.

More from Israel soon (I’m sitting in Heathrow right now waiting for my flight — of course I’m not being productive because the Internet is back on again. Damn distractions! :-) Heheh).

It might also have to do with the fact that I hate doing email, so avoid it until there’s nothing else to do. Either way, I’m productive. If you count answering email as being productive.

172 thoughts on “Not productive enough? Turn off the Internet

  1. well, this is SO TRUE!
    I’ve worked at a client side for 2 days without any internet connection. Only internet access was remoting into a remote machine and that just gives me webmail. :-/

    Had a few hours off waiting for some software to run an installation and script, in these few hours I sorted out my mailbox and did all the due administration work from the last few months, one actually feel as if a great weight has been lifted from one’s shoulders.

  2. well, this is SO TRUE!
    I’ve worked at a client side for 2 days without any internet connection. Only internet access was remoting into a remote machine and that just gives me webmail. :-/

    Had a few hours off waiting for some software to run an installation and script, in these few hours I sorted out my mailbox and did all the due administration work from the last few months, one actually feel as if a great weight has been lifted from one’s shoulders.

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  4. I agree. I notice an increase of productivity when I am not distracted by the phone, the internet or the office mates :)
    And I feel strange when, after 2/3 straight hours of work I think: “I didn’t miss email and rss feeds!” :)

  5. I agree. I notice an increase of productivity when I am not distracted by the phone, the internet or the office mates :)
    And I feel strange when, after 2/3 straight hours of work I think: “I didn’t miss email and rss feeds!” :)

  6. Twitter’s not enough of a distraction for me to merit doing anything much about it – since I use Jaiku, Facebook, Myspace, Pownce, Tumblr etc etc I tend to update them all from http://www.hellotxt.com/ up to a maximum of about 5 times a day & only bother reading other people’s tweets, jaikus etc when I get home at the end of the day. You seem to be endlessly twittering most days – you’re definitely the most constant twitterer in my follow list – but updating so often kind of defeats the purpose in a way. The idea of microblogging is to save time by limiting the size of posts, but not to be never done with the damned thing :-)

  7. Twitter’s not enough of a distraction for me to merit doing anything much about it – since I use Jaiku, Facebook, Myspace, Pownce, Tumblr etc etc I tend to update them all from http://www.hellotxt.com/ up to a maximum of about 5 times a day & only bother reading other people’s tweets, jaikus etc when I get home at the end of the day. You seem to be endlessly twittering most days – you’re definitely the most constant twitterer in my follow list – but updating so often kind of defeats the purpose in a way. The idea of microblogging is to save time by limiting the size of posts, but not to be never done with the damned thing :-)

  8. While seemingly obvious the underlying point Robert makes is fascinating. While on a plane, we are 100% removed from all normal interruptions. Our time is truly 100% ours …. however the counterpoint is that time is potentially so un-natural that the work in that time is skewed and less valuable. During that time, when we send all those emails, the lack of instant response is gratifying, yet unreal, and I suspect creates an artificial sense of gratification.

    I know the feeling too well.

  9. While seemingly obvious the underlying point Robert makes is fascinating. While on a plane, we are 100% removed from all normal interruptions. Our time is truly 100% ours …. however the counterpoint is that time is potentially so un-natural that the work in that time is skewed and less valuable. During that time, when we send all those emails, the lack of instant response is gratifying, yet unreal, and I suspect creates an artificial sense of gratification.

    I know the feeling too well.

  10. Instant Messenger is a blessing and a curse in the workplace, but at least it has a true function. Twitter is fun, but way too distracting, especially if you want to complete a creative or technical project. That little twit in the in the corner of your screen is seductive and charming, which is why I need to turn it off to work.

  11. Instant Messenger is a blessing and a curse in the workplace, but at least it has a true function. Twitter is fun, but way too distracting, especially if you want to complete a creative or technical project. That little twit in the in the corner of your screen is seductive and charming, which is why I need to turn it off to work.

  12. “…to have an interesting conversation every day.”

    Have you ever thought about just letting life happen? Interesting conversations that arise because of place and circumstance and people, rather than dictated by a check list?

    Maybe what it takes to be a weblogger is to live a life in a permanent state of partial attention. I know I can’t live the “connected” state anymore, more power to those that can, I guess.

    But “interesting conversation every day”…how can you be meaningfully impacted by a conversation when you don’t give yourself time to absorb all the nuances?

    Oh well, whatever works for you.

  13. “…to have an interesting conversation every day.”

    Have you ever thought about just letting life happen? Interesting conversations that arise because of place and circumstance and people, rather than dictated by a check list?

    Maybe what it takes to be a weblogger is to live a life in a permanent state of partial attention. I know I can’t live the “connected” state anymore, more power to those that can, I guess.

    But “interesting conversation every day”…how can you be meaningfully impacted by a conversation when you don’t give yourself time to absorb all the nuances?

    Oh well, whatever works for you.

  14. I do something not quite the same. I develop software – for linux. But my documentation/mail/etc.. machine is a mac. When in my office, the Mac and the Linux box share a monitor. When I’m coding/debugging/etc.. I have the screen on my “work” box. I can’t see the mac screen. There are days where I completely forget to look at the mail etc.. because I’ve hit the coding ‘zone’ and since there’s no blinky to catch my attention.. I stay there! (till the wife calls to see if I’m still alive since it’s been 12 hours since last she heard from me.)

  15. I do something not quite the same. I develop software – for linux. But my documentation/mail/etc.. machine is a mac. When in my office, the Mac and the Linux box share a monitor. When I’m coding/debugging/etc.. I have the screen on my “work” box. I can’t see the mac screen. There are days where I completely forget to look at the mail etc.. because I’ve hit the coding ‘zone’ and since there’s no blinky to catch my attention.. I stay there! (till the wife calls to see if I’m still alive since it’s been 12 hours since last she heard from me.)

  16. I would love to know more about the cost to productivity of Facebook, Twitter, et. al. Which are the biggest drains? And are there any real benefits in the workplace?

  17. I would love to know more about the cost to productivity of Facebook, Twitter, et. al. Which are the biggest drains? And are there any real benefits in the workplace?

  18. What are your goals? Is it to have more followers on Twitter? Or is it to get something done today?

    It certainly is not to have more followers on Twitter. I care not a hoot about that.

    Here’s my Life List. I much prefer to work on getting these things done.

  19. What are your goals? Is it to have more followers on Twitter? Or is it to get something done today?

    It certainly is not to have more followers on Twitter. I care not a hoot about that.

    Here’s my Life List. I much prefer to work on getting these things done.

  20. I know what you’re re talking about, I could get a lot ,ore done. I really appreciate you article because it is written in such a way that it is easy reading. So many blog posters get too carried away with creative writing styles. Apparently you have had some practice at it.
    Thanks, Jordy

  21. I know what you’re re talking about, I could get a lot ,ore done. I really appreciate you article because it is written in such a way that it is easy reading. So many blog posters get too carried away with creative writing styles. Apparently you have had some practice at it.
    Thanks, Jordy

  22. Robert, how long exactly has taken you to reach that conclusion? :)

    Many of us have shunned the likes of Facebook, Twitter or Friendfeed for that very reason. They are too demanding on our time.

    I see exactly why they would be valueable for someone like you, and I find it quite normal that you use them. For me, they’re simple not worth it.

    You know, this is a game we can’t win. Asynchronous services such as email favour procrastrination and an ever mounting inbox. Synchronous services such as twitter completely wreck our workflow. The combination of both is death.

    For me, the lesser evil is staying with email, using plain old IM when I need it, and cutting down on the number of contacts to those I care about. I couldn’t care less about what I’m missing that way. Among other things, YOU won’t miss that, and will keep us updated ;)

  23. Robert, how long exactly has taken you to reach that conclusion? :)

    Many of us have shunned the likes of Facebook, Twitter or Friendfeed for that very reason. They are too demanding on our time.

    I see exactly why they would be valueable for someone like you, and I find it quite normal that you use them. For me, they’re simple not worth it.

    You know, this is a game we can’t win. Asynchronous services such as email favour procrastrination and an ever mounting inbox. Synchronous services such as twitter completely wreck our workflow. The combination of both is death.

    For me, the lesser evil is staying with email, using plain old IM when I need it, and cutting down on the number of contacts to those I care about. I couldn’t care less about what I’m missing that way. Among other things, YOU won’t miss that, and will keep us updated ;)

  24. “You blokes look up tight. You should try logging off; it relieves tension” — Ray Tracer (ReBoot)

  25. “You blokes look up tight. You should try logging off; it relieves tension” — Ray Tracer (ReBoot)

  26. “The Huffington Post”???? That alone should save you a collossal amount of time, and also enable you to regenerate some brain cells.

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