Less is more

Some time ago I've posted a couple of ideas around productivity and distractionless computer environment. Since then I continue trying to optimize my computer experience here and there. It is always interesting to know what ideas others have about problems you are thinking about. So it was very interesting for me to read how Leo Babauta of Zen Habits approaches his computer experience. A lot of good ideas there.

Iconless desktop. Great idea! Desktop is not a junkyard. On Windows XP it is as simple as right-click on the desktop -> Arrange Icons By -> Show Desktop Icons.

"Light" menubar. Now I switched from autohiding my Task Bar to completely removing it from the screen: only 2 pixels at the top of the screen. No more annoying appearances of the Tool Bar when your mouse is near the edge. You can still use Win-key to access the Start menu and Alt-Tab to switch between windows.

Keyboard shortcuts instead of icons. Brilliant! This is something that I started adopting very actively. On Windows XP you do not even need to install additional software tools: right-click on the icon in the Start Menu -> Properties, click in the Shortcut key box and select shortcut for an application.

Find your way to effective computer experience.These and other small tricks can take you one step away from chaos and give you some precious time to do what you do best - create!

Full speed mode

A while back I wrote about using full screen to enhance your productivity and focus on the task you need to accomplish. But that is not enough - you need to get rid of blinking, screaming and beeping everything. Here are a few recipes that I follow personally.

Most likely you use Outlook as I do. Outlook has incredible concentration killer - Desktop Alter. I would not say you should disable it, I would say you must disable it! Here is how my notification settings look like

That's right, I do not get any notifications. I want to decide when to read process e-mail myself. I'll talk later about processing e-mail.

Next thing is IMs. Now, don't get me wrong instant messaging is really great. You can distract people from what they are doing all over the world (and, yes, you can use messengers to communicate). Usually IM tools are smart enough to have a "Do not disturb" mode. In this mode all inbound communication will just accumulate without letting you know and you will be able to process it later. And to not forget to turn of sound notification on incoming messages.

There are so many ways to get distracted, but there equally as many to protect yourself from distraction. Before you skip to the next web page check out this.

Full screen mode

I'm a huge fun of "Maximize it!" approach when it comes to use of computer screen real estate no matter how big the diagonal is. Initially it was because I could not stand wasting precious pixels. And now it has more to do with attention and concentration rather than anything else. The idea behind this is quite simple: your computer can multitask - you can not. Period. If you think you can multitask enter "why context switching is expensive?" and read whatever article happens to be referenced from the first page. (I was surprised by how often they refer to humans and not computer systems). And then return to the beginning of the paragraph.

When you are at your computer you want it to be one task - one window. No IMs, no blinking something, no "Oh! Here is Firefox, let's check what they say there on the news..." Nothing! Just you, the task you need to accomplish and a piece of software that helps you.

The best way to achieve that is

  • Hide the Task bar. You do not want anything to blink at you.
  • Switch to full-screen. You need nothing expect for text editor when you write something; e-mail program when you process you messages; spreadsheet when you put together budget for next quarter; etc.

Many programs do support real full screen mode. Web browsers do, Microsoft Visual Studio does, some Microsoft Office applications do. That's pretty good coverage and you should make use of it.

When you are trying to relax and watch a good movie can you enjoy it when your cell rings every 5 minutes? What do you do in such situation? Right, you switch off the phone. Productive work is the same - you can enjoy it when no one disturbs you.

Turn off distraction and let your brain work at full capacity.