I've never had myself tested for ADD, but I know for sure that I'm very easily distracted. The fact that my job requires me to sit in front of the computer with an Internet connection all day means that tempting trajectories ("I wonder if YouTube has a commercial for Six Finger?… Yep!") are just a click away. For years I suffered with distractions that diminish my daily productivity. But in the last year or so I've refined a simple system to keep me on track throughout the day.
Photo by osov/Shutterstock.
I keep a master list of everything I need to do. As soon as I think of something that I need to do, or if I have a meeting and am assigned an action item, I add it to the master list. The list is divided into different categories, such as Make magazine, Boing Boing, Gweek, personal business, etc. I've used a lot of different list managers over time, and I find that Wunderlist serves my purposes very well. It works with my desktop computer and my smartphone, synchronizing between the two. It's important to have a system to capture everything. (I learned that from David Allen's Getting Things Done, of course).
Every morning, before beginning work for the day, I scan my list, looking for the items that I want to accomplish that day. Wunderlist, like all good task managers, allows me to mark items as a priority. I print a hardcopy of these starred items. (I usually have 10 to 15 starred items on my list.) I then go through the list and number the items 1 - 15 (or however many are on the list) in the order I want to tackle them.
Once that's done, I go into Robot Mode. I don't think about how many items are on the list or how many I have left to accomplish. I just focus on the current task at hand. When I finish the task I check it off and move to the next numbered item. Robot Mode helps me from feeling overwhelmed, which can happen if I am looking at a list of things that aren't in any particular order. If I have to deal with an interruption (as we all do) I take care of it, and get back to my list.
There's one item I add to my list every day that helps me get things done and keeps me happy: "15 minutes of non-digital creativity" — it's sort of based on something that Yoko Ono said in an interview. I can't find the interview, but she said that she made sure to spend a little time each day away from her busy schedule, even if it was just looking at clouds in the sky for 10 seconds. I find that taking 15 minutes to do something non-digital, like whittling a spoon, playing with clay, or sketching, is a great way to improve my mood and to make all my work-related stuff seem less urgent. I usually schedule it about halfway through the list, so that I have a treat to work towards in the early afternoon, when I'm starting to burn out.
It's rare for me to finish all the items on my list, but that's life. I'm getting much more done with this method than any otherproductivity system I've tried.
Mark Frauenfelder is the editor-in-chief of Make magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog. He was an editor at Wired from 1993-1998, and is the author of six books. His latest book is Made by Hand: My Adventures in the World of Do-It-Yourself.