After nearly two weeks, Kim and I are finally feeling settled here in Savannah. We’re learning the layout of the city, and discovering how to get around our neighborhood. (I like to walk almost everywhere, which is a challenge in the South. But I’m making it work.)
Both of us have started working on our respective online projects too. Kim is taking Steve Chou’s online commerce course, and last week placed her first order for sample products from China. I’ve been learning my mailing list software, and last Friday sent out the first test email for Money Boss. (Here’s the online version of that test email.) If all goes according to plan, I’ll send out my first real Money Boss email later this week. And once the designer is finished with the website, we can launch the darn thing!
I’ve been disconcerted, however, to find that I’m struggling at times to get work done on Money Boss. I’m making great progress, sure, but not as much as I’d hoped. I get distracted. Blame it on my ADHD or blame it on simple lack of willpower, but I have too much email to wade through and too many open tabs in my browsers. I feel overwhelmed.
Because of this, I’m actually getting more work done when I leave my computer and go for a walk. I carry a notebook with me so that I can scribble down stuff as I stroll through the nearby marsh/forest. (I’m not sure what to call this sort of terrain.) But this isn’t an ideal way to work. I want to be able to sit at my computer and get stuff done. The fact that I can’t has been very frustrating.
So, yesterday morning I decided drastic measures were in order. I sat down at my computer and gave myself a workflow makeover.
Too Many Tabs
You see, part of the problem is that I’ve been doing things the same way for years. In some cases, decades. And nothing about my workflow has been thought out. It’s all just sort of evolved over time in a haphazard sort of way. It’s less than ideal.
“How can I improve the way I do things?” I asked myself. “What are the things that frustrate me and slow me down? What are the things that make me feel overwhelmed?”
The first thing I tackled was my problem with tabs. I’m the sort of guy who has dozens of tabs open in his browsers (yes, plural) at any given time. Yesterday morning, I had nine browser windows open between Chrome and Safari, and each window had 8-12 open tabs. You do the math. No wonder I always feel overwhelmed by my browser! This seemed like a good place to start my workflow makeover.
When I thought about why I had so many open tabs, I realized that the pages fell into a handful of categories:
- My email and social media tabs.
- The sites I read regularly.
- Articles I want to read when I have time.
- Articles I’ve already read and want to save for later.
- Pages I’m actively using to complete my work.
Obviously, the latter group of tabs is acceptable — but they could all fit in a single browser window. But the other pages? There’s no reason I should have all of them open on my computer. I set about finding ways to keep them closed.
Taming Email and Subduing Social Media
Long ago, when the internet was young, I managed my email with a stand-alone program called Eudora. When Eudora became defunct (2007? 2008?), I switched to Mac Mail. Mac Mail was terrible, so I opted for web-based email. The problem with this? For one, more browser tabs. (I have three email accounts that I use regularly.) For another, I have a bad habit of checking my email tabs over and over and over again.
My best bet, I decided, was to return to a stand-alone email client. I bit the bullet and set up Mac Mail again. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t love it, but it helps me get email out of my browser. (For a program that’s been around for so long, it has some severe problems.) If it doesn’t work well, I’ll try to find another option. Anyone have recommendations?
At the same time, I tackled social media. I’m not a huge sucker for Facebook, but it does drain time now and then when I ought to be focused on other stuff. So, I installed the Kill News Feed Chrome extension. I can still see notifications and I can still post to Facebook groups, but I can’t look at cat photos are read about what my friends have been up to. Now I need to pull out my iPhone or iPad to waste time in this way.
Plus I set up a Buffer account, which will allow me to schedule posts to Facebook and Twitter. Now I can batch-process my social media work once each week. Yay!
My Reading List
Next, I had to refine the way I read the web. Instead of browsing to my favorite sites and leaving open tabs with articles to read later, I decided to relegate most of my reading to my iPad. (I don’t do work on my iPad. I use it purely for entertainment at the end of the day, which is a good time to read the interesting articles I’ve found.)
I divided the sites I read regularly into three groups:
- For the sites I value most, I subscribed by email. I don’t like getting swamped with email updates (which is why I intend to keep Money Boss emails to a minimum), but I don’t mind getting occasional messages from places like Nerd Fitness, James Clear, Afford Anything, and Mr. Money Mustache.
- I subscribed to other sites I like by RSS. Yes, I know RSS seems to be dying, but I think it’s still a great way to get updates. Because I already had Reeder installed on my iPad, I downloaded the desktop version of the app. Now I can sync sites between devices.
- Finally, I banned Reddit and Wimp and similar sites from my browser. I don’t know a way to actually block myself from these time-wasters, but I found iPad apps for each and will do my best to train myself to not open them on my laptop.
Once I’d set up my reading list, the next problem was figuring out what to do when I find articles I want to read later. I find interesting stuff all the time that I can’t (or don’t want to) read at the moment. In the past, I’ve just left these articles in open tabs — tabs that sit there for weeks at a time. (Or months! As I was cleaning things up yesterday, I realized I’d had one article open since late May. Yikes.)
I remembered that I once downloaded an app called Instapaper, which was designed to do exactly what I wanted: save interesting articles for later reading. A quick search revealed the app still exists and that there’s a desktop client that syncs with the iPad. Perfect. I installed the Chrome extension and quickly archived all of my open tabs. (I’m not sure if I can tag or categorize the articles I save. It’ll be nice if I can, but it’s not a dealbreaker if I can’t.)
Lastly, I had to find a way to save websites and articles for future reference. The obvious solution was Evernote. I’ve had an Evernote account for five yeas, but have never been able to incorporate it into my workflow. Now, however, I see that it fits perfectly into what I’m trying to accomplish. Whenever I need to save something (whether on the web or in Instapaper), I’ll simply funnel it to Evernote.
In theory at least, this new workflow should keep my open-tab problem to a minimum. Best of all, it lets me offload my reading lists to my iPad, which is where I prefer to consume this sort of stuff anyhow.
Writing with Purpose
The final problem to solve? How to write.
I’ve been using BBedit (and/or Text Wrangler) since the 1990s. It’s great. Except that it’s a Ferrari when all I need is a Honda Civic. So, I looked around at other text editors. I found Sublime Text 2.
Why a text editor?I use a text editor for all of my writing. People often ask why. “Because I can’t use a typewriter,” I sometimes joke, but it’s not far from the truth. When I write, all I want to do is write. I don’t need the fancy stuff that comes with a word processor. And I don’t like composing in a web browser (too many things can go wrong). A text editor lets me focus only on writing. It’s just what I need.
Surprisingly, Sublime is, well, sublime. In fact, it’s almost perfect for me. The interface is clean clean clean. I’m able to customize the display (I prefer light text on a dark background). It has handy HTML syntax highlighting. And there’s a distraction-free mode. I’ve only been using it for about an hour — to write this article — and I love it already.
Back to Work
There you have it: In just a couple of hours on a Sunday morning, I managed to overhaul my entire workflow. I upgraded my computer to the latest version of the operating system, changed the way I read articles on the internet, and — I hope — made myself a more productive writer.
I’m not sure if these changes will stick, but I suspect they will. It’d be awesome to stop getting distracted and frustrated, and instead get more done!
(Obviously, if you have any suggestions for how to reduce distractions and improve productivity, I’d love to hear them. What’s worked for you? What hasn’t?)