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The designer's guide to killing distractions and getting more done

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A designer’s life nowadays is very hectic. We have to keep up with our clients, our finances, our personal life, our professional life, and generally anything on the internet. Our minds are constantly racing while we try to multi-task everything at once.

However, keeping track of all of that will get in the way of the most important part of being a designer, designing. If you’re checking Facebook and your emails all the time, where can you fit in design? If you have a big design project coming up, how can you fit all of that in a schedule? Unfortunately, you can’t. If you want to successfully design for that big project, use this tips below to minimize distractions and get more done.

Close Out of Unnecessary Programs

When you’re designing, only what is vital to your design process should be open on your computer. The design program and your client’s information should be the only things open. A good rule of thumb is to close any of the following:

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  • Desktop email clients – When designing, you don’t need to keep track of your email. Taking the time to close your email client will prevent an email from distracting you and disrupting your process.
  • Internet browsers – During the design process, you shouldn’t be surfing the internet unless you are using it to look up something for the design. Otherwise, the temptation to surf your favorite websites will lurk in the back of your mind and become another distraction.
  • Instant messengers – Nothing is a bigger distraction than receiving instant messages from people while you’re working. The constant notification of somebody talking to you can disrupt your work and give you a reason to procrastinate. Prevent this from happening and turn off all instant messengers.

No Social Media

Social media is very important for designers to have. We use it to market our services, keep updated on our industry, and to see what our friends are dong. However, the constant need to do all of that will disrupt your work.

  • Don’t check any of them – Generally when designers check their social media accounts, they check all of them in one browser. With all the different social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. they can become a hassle. Close out of the browser you have them in and don’t check them while designing.
  • Shut off social media applications – Some designers also have desktop applications to manage their social media pages without using a browser. While these tools are immensely helpful, they are not while you’re designing. Turn off their notifications and shut them off to minimize disruptions from your work.

Avoid Your Phone

Having a designated cell phone or landline for your clients is great for your business. It gives a client an easy option to contact you whenever they need you. Nonetheless, this will pose a problem when you are working. Clients constantly calling you while you’re working on that big project will be a major distraction.

  • Leave it at home – If you can, the best way to avoid your phone is to leave the house and leave it there. Bring your work to a quiet place and don’t bring along your phone. Being disconnected from your phone will leave you less prone to distractions.
  • Set hours where nobody can call you – Email your current clients and tell them you are not available between certain set hours of the day. As an alternative, you can just not pick up the phone between those set hours. If you allow yourself at least three hours of unavailable calling time, that’s three hours of work you can get done undistracted.
  • Keep it on silent – If you absolutely must keep your phone nearby, consider putting it on silent mode. If you put your phone on silent, you will still receive notifications, but they will be less distracting. However, it may still give you the urge to constantly check what you missed, so putting it away from you can counteract this effect.
  • Avoid mobile applications – Smart phones are immensely popular for everybody including designers. The variety of mobile applications can be a huge distraction though. If you need your phone on for certain reasons, but find yourself addicted to Angry Birds, turn off notifications for those applications and remove them from the desktop.

How do you avoid distractions?

What tips do you use to minimize your distractions? Do you use any of these tips? Have you seen better results when you have fewer distractions? Discuss in the comment section and share your tips with fellow designers.

-photo by rishibando

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About Nicole Foster

Nicole Foster is a professional website designer from New York that loves meeting new people. At Nicole Foster Designs, she offers website, wordpress, and ecommerce services to unique businesses. In her free time, she enjoys meditating and chatting with other designers.

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  1. This is certainly something important, I usually get lost hearing some music and designing, literally get lost on the creative process, hours and hours spent that way.

    By the way I would like to mention that I’m doing a lovedsgn invites giveaway (to ensure I invite good people to the community)
    this is the link http://thinkretina.com/2011/08/12/lovedsgn-invitation-give-away/

    Just so someone is interested, keep up the good writing, this blog is great 🙂

    • @Raul Salazar,
      We’re super glad you like the blog! Thanks for always sharing great comments and insights on our posts.

      Getting lost and distracted in the design process is probably the best place you could get distracted as a designer, but I totally know what you mean.

      How do you ‘snap out of it’? I usually have to force myself to turn off the music and close my laptop.

      • @Preston D Lee,

        I think it depends on the project, sometimes I work better with music it helps me concentrate I even stop paying atention to the music when focus, but when I find my self being unable to focus I just go outside fo a small walk and breathe some fresh air and a notebook and pencil trying not to think about anything normaly something pops and I need to write it down, also I use my phones recorder to record ideas that distract me on the moment of working just press the shortcut and speakloud the idea.

        As a creative those ideas can distract a lot but having the way to record it gives me the feeling of being able to catch on that idea later.

        Also remember not to reply comments while working (I’m guilty Right now)

  2. I normally don’t have a television on when I’m trying to get something done, be it designing, reading blogs, etc.

    My work space is separate from the rest of the house, in a small office. I do keep my window open. Kinda clears the mind at times.

    • @William,
      Some great suggestions! My guess is that you don’t get all too distracted, eh?

      • @Preston D Lee, I wish at times I didn’t, but most of the time it works. The real world always has some unexpected things occur, many of which are not in your control. But no doubt, its not 100%, for sure.

  3. Margie Matteson says:

    Well-timed! I fight distraction every single day, trying to get the actual work done. It’s probably the hardest thing to balance — trying to stay current with correspondence as well as with marketing and with industry news — but it really will eat as much of your day as you let it.

    I don’t have a smartphone for just this reason. And how is it 5:30p.m. and I still haven’t opened my code editing program?

    • @Margie Matteson,
      Ha. I have been there. But I actually disagree about the smartphone statement. I have found I can actually be more productive with my phone. I approve blog comments, send and receive emails, and share and consume social media content all from my phone throughout the day when I have down time. That way, when it’s time to work, I simply work.


  4. Good stuff. I’d also recommend using the Pomadoro technique (http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/). You first generate a list of things to accomplish and assign how long they’ll take in “pomadoros” or 25 minute chunks. Work hard for the 25 minutes, take a five minute break. Do four of these and then take a longer break. Repeat as necessary. The web site has more information, but if you follow it, you’ll get a lot more than you normally would done.

    • @slabounty, The Pomadoro technique works very well and I would highly recommend it to anybody!

    • @slabounty,
      I totally agree! I actually just started that a few weeks ago and it has completely changed my productivity levels.

      I realized it was a good technique when I started commuting to work via the train. Riding the train is the only time I have to blog, market my blog, respond to comments, etc. and it forced me to do it all in the 60 minutes per day that I have for it all.

      Thanks for the recommendation. Have you seen a lot of success with the Pomodoro technique?

      • @Preston D Lee, When I use it, my productivity goes way up and I’d guess it would for everyone. Normally, I just use the “basic” technique and don’t go back an analyze the data, etc. Even still it helps a lot. Honestly, I really believe that it would help just about anyone in just about any field.

  5. Some people listen to music to drown out distractions. Others close the door to their office at home and say “pretend that I’m not here” to anyone else (pets included) in the house.

    I find that using my time-tracking software keeps me honest. I charge by the project, not by the hour (unless revisions get lengthy), so if I know that clock’s a-ticking I want to maximize my design time. Also I use the time-tracking as a metric for future projects, so wasting time while on the clock skews my project lengths.

    I tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to a project…once I get into it I generally ignore everything else (including the real time) unless I get jarred out of it. The ideas are flowing and I want to get them down before I forget them, or see the project to a stopping point before disengaging from it.

    • @April,
      As usual, an excellent addition to the article. Thanks for sharing! I am the same way with a project – especially if I’m trying to solve a serious problem or something. Tunnel vision is a good phrase for it. My wife endearingly calls it my ‘computer face’. She just knows she’s not going to get through when I have my ‘computer face’ on. Ha!

  6. The biggest time killer I know today are social media. Facebook and Twitter take the helm.
    These distractions not only take away concentration from designers but also derail their focus tremendously.

    Its good to practice self discipline and ‘block’ all access to such areas during work hours or whenever needed.

  7. I work from home, so I had my cell phone turned off and I cut my ringer off on the home phone when I am working. The social media and email thing, I have to get better at that. Facebook turns into 3 hours of chatting and catching up before you know it you have wasted a lot of time doing NOTHING. Which is what I did last night actually, so I will be working on this goal next.

    • @Amybella,
      A definitely admirable goal. I would say since you turn off your cell phone and home phone, why not disconnect your facebook chat. I find when I turn it off, I am less likely to spend hours talking to people. Just a thought.

      Good luck!

      • @Preston D Lee,

        LOL, sadly, I do not even use FB Chat. It’s the “going to the URL and checking my newsfeed and updates” that I can’t seem to stop.

        working on it though 🙂 and thanks for the good luck 🙂

  8. I’m not a designer but I create lots of content (posts, email marketing, webinars with 100+ attendees weekly). For me, I’m a creative so distractions are abundant. My mind races in all sorts of different directions with an idea here, an idea there, and then, next thing you know the whole day has gone by… Whoops!

    What I do to try and eliminate those distractions is much of what you advised here but I also use a Timer. A standard kitchen timer works. I set it for 12 minute intervals. I’ll sit and write for 12 minutes straight. Then I”ll pause for 2 to stand, pace around and edit. Then I’ll set the timer again for 12 minutes. I repeat that process at least 3-4 times.

    Combined with a little Pandora and some Redbull and I’m good to go!!


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