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focus - a simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction by Leo Babauta

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creating an uncluttered environment - part ii

1: creating an uncluttered environment -- continued

... continuation

Turn off notifications

This is an easy step, and should only take a few minutes. You want to turn off any notifications that might interrupt you.

Email: Go to the preferences of your email program, and turn off notifications. If you have a separate program installed that notifies you of things, turn it off.

IM: Same thing with Instant Messaging/chat … turn off notifications. Only sign in when you’re available to chat — when you want to focus, sign out, and don’t have any notifications that will interrupt you.

Calendar: I’d recommend you shut off your calendar notifications as well, unless there’s something you absolutely can’t miss and you need the notification to remember. If something is that important, you will probably remember anyway, though.

Twitter (or other social networks): If you have a program for Twitter or any other social networks, turn it off and shut off notifications.

Mobile device: Shut off your cell phone or mobile device, if possible, when you want to truly focus. At the very least, go to the preferences of any notifications you have (email, IM, etc.) on the device and shut them off.

Phones: uplug your phone or put it on Do Not Disturb mode (or whatever it’s called) when you’re ready to focus.

You might have other notifications not listed here. When they pop up or make a noise, find out how to disable them. Now you can work with fewer interruptions.

Find soothing music and some headphones

Don’t spend too much time on this one. If you already have music in iTunes (or whatever music program you use) or on a CD, use that. Don’t spend a lot of time on the Internet researching the most relaxing music and downloading a lot of songs.

Peaceful music is great because it puts you in the right mood to focus, and it blocks out other sounds.

I’d recommend using headphones — it doesn’t matter what kind — to further block out distractions. It also means coworkers are less likely to interrupt you if they see the headphones on.

Clear your computer desktop

A clear desktop is not only great for your physical desk — it’s great for your computer as well. Icons scattered all over a computer desktop are distracting. Instead, clear everything and be left with peace and focus.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Install a launcher program. Mac users should try either Launchbar or Quicksilver. Windows users might try Launchy or AutoHotKey (for power users). Once set up, the launcher program is activated with a keystroke combination (Command-spacebar in my case), and then you start typing the program or name of the folder or file you want to open. Usually the correct name will be automatically completed within a few keystrokes, and you press the “Return” key to activate it. It’s much faster than finding the right icon on your desktop, and then double-clicking it, especially if the desktop is covered by a bunch of applications and windows.
  2. Delete all application shortcuts. Many people have shortcuts all over their desktops for commonly used applications/programs. You don’t need them anymore, now that you have the launcher program. Delete them all.
  3. Put all folders/files into your Documents (or My Documents) folder. Don’t worry too much about sorting them — the launcher program can find them much faster, or you could use the search function of your computer to quickly find anything you’re looking for.
  4. Hide everything else. On the PC, right-click on the desktop, go to the “view” menu, and unselect “show desktop icons”. On the Mac, in the Finder, go to File -> Preferences, under General, and unselect all the items under “Show these items on the Desktop”. Now all your icons should be gone from the desktop.

Isn’t it beautiful?

Clear your floor

If you have a cluttered floor surrounding your workspace, this could take awhile, so do it in chunks. No need to do everything at once.

Some people have stacks of files and papers around them. If this is you, slowly start to go through them, one file/paper at a time: do you need it? If so, file it. If not, recycle it or forward to the right person.

What else is on your floor? Quickly make decisions: do you absolutely need it? If not, get rid of it. If you do, find a place in a drawer, out of sight and not on the floor. This might mean making room in drawers by getting rid of stuff.

Again, this could take a little longer, so do it in chunks.

Clear your walls

Many people have calendars, pictures, memos, motivational posters, reminders, schedules, and more, hanging on their walls near their desk. Those are visual distractions and make it a little more difficult to focus. Clearing your walls, except perhaps for a nice photo or piece of art, is a good idea for creating the perfect environment for focusing.

If you’ve done the steps above, this one should be easy. Take everything down except for a couple of essential pieces or pleasing photos/artwork.

Either get rid of things you don’t need, or find an out-of-sight spot for things you do need.

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