Knowledge management tips. Software recommendations. Miscellaneous thoughts.

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You're not that important

Have some respect for yourself

If your phone vibrates or dings or yells at you, what do you do? Do you check it immediately?

Now how often is what you received more important than what you were already doing? Is it important enough that you're willing to lose about 25 minutes on the task at hand? Research from Gloria Mark at the University of California Irvine shows that that is the average amount of time it takes to get back to tasks after being distracted.

Every notification comes in as an urgent priority, however, they are rarely important. So, that means you're not that important. These things don't require your immediate attention. Really what this means is you're a lot more important.

Here are the practices I have in place, to fight back for focus.


Problem: We let our phones interrupt

Do you not want to be present? It's impossible to be when you allow everything to grab your attention.

Solution: Do not disturb me

It's rare that anything needs your attention immediately. For years, I have had do not disturb on on my phone and I've never felt like I missed anything important. I have instead stopped missing a lot of important focus time.

You may ask "but what if someone does need to reach me?" Well the repeated calls feature is perfect, if someone has a real emergency they'll certainly call more than once, so that let's them cut through in the moments they truly need you.

I can't think of any moments where I've wished that I had do not disturb turned off. I can, however, think of many instances where I've checked my phone and realized I worked for hours straight without being distracted, only to see a pile of notifications that would have prevented that.

I actually took this to the extreme the past two weeks by turning the "Silence" section to "Always." It takes focus to the extreme, because even when I'm using my phone I'm not getting distracted by my phone. I can write an entire text and not even realize I have Facebook Messenger message that came in until I've finished that one. I would say don't start with this setting, ease into it by just getting used to Do Not Disturb by itself.


Problem: We allow notifications

How many notifications do you get per day?

20? 100? 1000?

Every single one is a potential source of distraction. However, oftentimes, we simply dismiss the same app that beckons us everyday.

Solution: Don't give em a chance

First, when an application asks you to turn on notifications, actually stop and consider if they're worth it. If an application starts to cloud your feed, they distract you from other notifications you actually do want to check at some point. But more importantly, they distract you from life.

Second, when you are constantly dismissing the same notification, just go into settings and turn off notifications for that app. Maybe even just delete the app. For me, Instagram is the application that I don't need any type of notification for. I check in when I feel like browsing content, occasionally I'll have messages or likes, but I never feel like I need to know about these things before I want to open the app.


Problem: We prevent productive notification habits

Here's my home screen:

These are all of the badge notifications that I have on my phone.

Now what's your phone look like? 6024 unread emails?

How many badges cause you stress to see? How many actually provide you value?

Solution: Rethink badges

Look at the picture above

First, a notification on my Messages app means two things:

  1. I have an unread message (okay duh)
  2. I have not had the time to respond yet

I don't read messages until I know I can respond. I'm really forgetful, but this prevents me from reading and then not responding.

Second, look at Streaks. This is a habit tracking habit. I want stress from this. I want to drive that to 0. But if I had badges all over the screen, I'd miss that gentle push. I'd be gently pushed 100x in all sorts of directions instead. And look, one toddler pushing you is pretty manageable, but 100 is something that should be saved for nightmares.

Third, I don't need notifications from things that can be responded to whenever. My email app only has badge notifications on. When I check my phone's lockscreen, I want to see what I have that needs attention soonish. Lots of things can be checked into when there's a badge notification. That means, when I've already opened my phone up for something else, I'll just take the time to clear through it.


We accept too many things as just the way that they are. It's easy for people to believe that they need to be always present. However, if you just try these changes, you'll realize that's not really the case. I still have plenty of people talk to me, in fact, at times I will respond quickly and continuously. But it's when I have dedicated free time to being present with others digitally, not when they pop in to decide that for me.

Use notifications productively, or else they will use you.

Are you distracted by your thoughts?

If you have thoughts in your head instead of collected somewhere you trust yourself to check then they will bother you while trying to get work done.
You'll want to use the first step of the getting things done (GTD) framework. It's worth learning the whole system eventually but I recommend people just start with the first step. It has a huge immediate payoff in terms of stress and productivity. It's also a lot easier to implement one step than five at a time.

Capture is that first step.

Take a piece of paper and just list out every single thing you can think of in a bullet list. Don't worry about clarifying anything or being too specific.

Your mind will now have some breathing room. Pick an important item and start going at it.
While not a long-term solution, this is much better than not having any system. If for some reason or another I get behind on my productivity system, be it stress, vacation or whatever, I will always use this as soon as I recognize the problem. The capture step is my support structure.

Here's a "trigger list" that will help you fully empty your head: https://gettingthingsdone.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Mind_Sweep_Trigger_List.pdf

Software for Tracking Information

Why track information?

I love tracking things because I hate forgetting something. And I'm really good at forgetting things.

There's two different types of tracking. I've labeled what I use them for in their descriptions, however, try them and see what you like to use them for.

  1. Capture - Tracking things for me to revisit later
  2. Remember - Tracking things to remember what I've already done

Anyways, here's a list of my favorite tools for tracking information.

Note: If available, links take you directly to my public profile so you can get an example of the tool in action. And you can follow me :)

The Software

Trakt.tv - TV / movie tracking
Usage type: 1,2

I've used trakt.tv to track my TV and movie watching for years.
What I love is that they just make a website and a really solid API.
So I've switched mobile apps over the years but they always have trakt as the backend so I've always been able to have faith in my tv/movie catalogue.
I'm not a fan of rewatching things so it's really valuable to me.
This is the tracking app that fostered such a love of tracking information for me. I've gone back to my trakt history so much to recommend content to people, it's made the (small) effort completely worth it to me.

Goodreads - Book tracking
Usage type: 1,2

Track list of books you want to read, are currently reading (including what page you're on) and have read. The feed shows you what friends are adding to their lists / reviewing which is a great way to get reading ideas. I also love using the yearly reading challenge to easily set a reading goal.

YouTube watch later playlist - Watch it later
Usage type: 1

There are two ways reasons I'll add videos to my watch later queue:

  1. I regularly check my subscription feed and add the ones that seem interesting. I don't want to watch every video by some people but I like to keep them around.
  2. Someone recommends me a video that I can't watch at that moment.

I'll usually sit down with my chromecast, load up a queue of a few videos, and then delete videos off the list after I've viewed them.

Instapaper - Read it later
Usage type: 1

Using to track internet articles to read. Automatically downloads the articles to your phone in reader mode so I've found myself reading instead of browsing random social media feeds when I have downtime. Basically giving me free learning time. After an article is finished, I'll archive it.

Pinboard - Bookmark tracking
Usage type: 2

Pinboard is where I store websites & articles that I expect to share with people or come back to. It let's you add tags to each article so you can easily filter through sites to find the information again. If I really like an article from Instapaper, I will put it in pinboard.


Here are the general rules I have for selecting tracking software:

  • Catalogue - Data is already supplied
    • Example: With Trakt, I just add a TV show to my watchlist and now anytime I watch a new episode I can easily tap that episode as complete and it tells me the next to watch. I don't have to manually type out information since they already know everything about each show.
  • Reliability - Syncing just works
    • No point in tracking information, if it's not going to always be correct
  • Multi-platform - I can update or use the information from anywhere that makes sense
  • Good UX - Updating information should be fast and feel good to use, otherwise you probably will give up
  • Good UI (nice to have, but UX is more important here)

Here are the rules I give myself for tracking:

  • Time doesn't matter
    • Example: With trakt, certain implementations will ask what time you watched the content. I found it to be far too cumbersome to try to correct this information. Either I watched it long ago and have no idea what a good time estimate is, or I watched it recently and it's unnecessary effort to distinguish the exact hour or day I watched it on.
    • Yes, sometimes I'll end up marking a whole series as watched because I watched it before I started tracking media. But I care more about consistent usage and an accurate history database than I do an accurate timeline.
  • One source of truth
    • You should never have to remember which service has which movie on it. There should only be one service that stores all of your movies. Otherwise, the system falls apart.


If you have any suggestions for software to try out, ways to improve my articles or content you'd like to see from me, write in my Listed guestbook.

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