Staying productive can be hard, especially if you have a bunch of gadgets ready to distract and aren't using your many methods of communication effectively. Here are a few ways to turn those distractions into actual productivity.
When asked if multiple monitors really equal a boost in productivity, we found that managing your pixels is often more relevant than having multiple monitors. A single monitor isn't always the answer, however. While more devices and screens can often equal more distractions, it really does all come down to management. If you want to make good use of all your tools, you need to get your communication under control and delegate tasks to the right devices.
One or More Screens
If you're managing all your windows on a single monitor you can always do it manually, but we like Divvy (Mac, our take) and WinSplit Revolution (Windows) to help with organisation. The problem is, if you're dealing with a single monitor and you have your work plus email, instant messaging, Twitter and other immediate distractions running all around you there's a risk of losing focus. It's not always an option to just turn them off, so that's where a second monitor can come in handy.
I have a second monitor that's sometimes used as a second workstation in my home coworking space, but when I've got the entire long table to myself I use it to offload distractions. While I keep IM on the main monitor for urgent communication, most things end up on the second display. Because it's not right next to me and I have to physically move myself to interact with it, the "ding" of email presents a more complex choice: Is it really worth getting up and interrupting my work to check the latest status of my inbox? Usually I'd rather keep working. When the choice is just "should I look?" (rather than "should I move and look?"), the answer is too often yes. With new messages coming in by the minute, this is not a good thing. Self-control only does so much when you hear that ding again and again because we get a nice dopamine release. Having a small barrier can make things so much easier. When you're ready to actually spend some time with emails and other forms of communication, you can either bring your wireless keyboard and mouse over to the other monitor or just swap the contents of the monitors. Both are a little annoying, but that's the idea.
You don't necessarily have to use a separate monitor to offload distractions. You can do the same thing with your smart phone or tablet. These devices are great for quick communication tools like Twitter, allowing you to focus on your primary task when you're using your computer.
Managing how you communicate is also hugely important. We tend to use email for almost all forms of communication, but that's not always the best method. We took a quick look at how to reduce email volume by communicating through speed-appropriate channels, but imagine hardly using it at all. Luis Suarez, a social technology evangelist for IBM, has managed to reduce 90 per cent of his email volume by communicating through other more efficient tools.
The first suggestion is "don't reply," which at first sounds a bit extreme. The idea isn't that you should never reply to email, but that we tend to send a message (literally and figuratively) when frequently replying that tells people they should always expect it. Not every email should get a response, and training people to communicate with you through other means can hugely reduce the messages you receive.
Once you've gotten started on an overall reduction, you'll want to start sorting the messages you have left. Gmail's new priority inbox is a good way to start, but building advanced filters, killer smart mailboxes and organising your inbox with the trusted trio are all great ways to start getting things under control.
Eventually, it needs to go beyond email, however. Keeping your inbox empty is always going to be a challenge if you don't start communicating with more appropriate tools (for the specific type of communication). Consider all the other tools available to you, like wikis, Twitter, blogs, instant messaging, text messaging, phone calls, etc, and focus your communication where it'll be most efficient and productive.
Got any great tips for managing multiple devices and methods of communication? Share 'em in the comments!