Remember the financial advice to start saving asap because of the magic of compounding interest? It's a simple phenomenon, a math pattern that produces a really great result when you take 1) money 2) earn interest on the money, adding it to the balance, then repeating 1 & 2 over time. Basically, someone who saves $5000 per year starting earlier in life will end up a LOT richer than someone who saves a lot more starting later in life. Time is on their side. See the graph as an example.
I think it the same "magic" of compounding interest applies in another area of our life as well: Structure. Freedom from distractions. Simply put, I think there's way more time on the table every single day than there is money to save. And remember the saying "time is money"? So let's look at how much time the average Mac user can save every day:
The Radicati Group, Inc. in Palo Alto estimates that the average person sends and receives about 120 messages per day. If we assume half of that is inbound (it's probably more), that means that a "ding" alert sound is distracting you about 60 times per day. That distraction is, at minimum, going to sidetrack you, and probably get you looking at email when you were focused doing something else. Let's say you're distracted for about 2 minutes, then you try to figure out what you were doing to get back to it. That's 120 distracted minutes, or 2 hours. A quick reality check tells us I'm lowballing it. Reuters reports that a study commissioned by Adobe Systems found that the average number of hours each person spends on email is 6.3 per day. So 2 hours of that wasted seems like a reasonable estimate. Sweet Christmas.
Before I started sanitizing my Mac's notification system (and my iPhone and iPad as well, btw), I used to have 10 pop-ups per day on the right hand side of my screen alerting me to upcoming meetings, appointments, etc. There is no "close all" button, so you spend 10-20 seconds clicking them all to close them out. Add up the time doing that with all the notifications each day and you find that you're spending 5 minutes clicking on things you already know about. EVERY DAY. Good grief. That's over a half-hour of mindless clicking per week.
Add up the above two and we're at 10.5 hours per week. And we're not even adding into the formula how much extra time is required to get back to focus and effectiveness in the other tasks that you were distracted away from.
Ever have one of those weeks where you feel like you didn't get much done? It's no wonder.
Mac distractions and where to stop them
Your Mac, out of the box, is designed to distract you. Apple can't deny that. And things went from subtle to almost obnoxious as soon as the Apple watch entered the Mac ecosystem. There are three major kind of distractions. Want to find zen-like calm in your life? Go to these things listed here, turn off everything or almost everything, set up your own routine for when you want to check for things or process things like email. Then you can leave your Mac's volume up and play all the music you want.
Located under the Apple Menu -> System Preferences -> Notifications. Almost every app, by default, is set to pop up, play a sound, and the pop up doesn't go away until it's dismissed. I turn off almost all of these, with a few minor exceptions I'll get into below (under Exceptions).
You would think that's enough, but wait, there's more. Individual apps have controls and preferences for both how and when to hand off notifications as well as in-app handling of reminders and invitations. For example, both Apple's Calendar app as well as my calendar app of choice, Fantastical 2, have separate preferences for turning off notifications.
Sounds are notifications evil sibling. And by default they're almost all on. Again, located under the Apple Menu -> System Preferences -> Notifications. The good news is that when you go through the list of notifications on your Mac, you can disable sounds while you're in there as well.
And again, individual apps have alert sounds as well. The most notably irritating is Apple's Mail app.
Badges are those little red circles on the apps in your Mac's dock that alert us to the fact that there's something unread, and how many/much is unread. Again, you can turn these off under the Apple Menu -> System Preferences -> Notifications.
Third-party, non-Mac OS X distractions
I treat Chrome and Tweetbot the same way I treat all my built-in Mac apps. I so totally dig it when someone follows me on twitter, or replies to me, or retweets me. I really do. I just don't need the little machine that going PING to tell me it's happened. So I go into Tweetbot and turn off everything.
Same for Chrome, which is a little more hidden, and not at all easy to find. I did some housekeeping recently after many months ago when I accepted Washington Post's and Huffington Post's request to notify me of important news. Then the election happened and it just got depressing. I turned off the news alerts because I'd rather focus my despair in more concentrated, purposeful bouts each day instead of frequent and random despair ridiculous time-sucks.
Additional and advanced anti-distraction countermeasures
I use the Do Not Disturb (DND) feature strategically. I set my Mac to go into full on Do Not Disturb for everything, including things I like to use my Mac for, like Facetime calls. When Apple made it possible to use my mac for iMessage and text messages as well as Facetime, it made it possible for me to answer the phone from my Mac during the hours I wanted. Way cool. But there are hours, like right now as I'm writing this, where I don't want to take any calls.
I still monitor for calls, but my personal operating procedure is simply to acknowledge my phone rang, and check on it in a reasonable period of time based on the expectations of my customer who I want to provide excellent response to. Turning DND on my Mac means I can focus for the extra few minutes or however long I want to get something produced, and without breaking my creative flow. A pop-up on my display with a name associated with it will still get the same response, but the difference is, I'm now mentally hijacked and can't finish my writing/creating/work/task, etc.
The magic of compound interest on time
Ok, so I promised you some magic at the beginning of this post. How's this: Once you get a routine established to manage all the chaos on your terms, not someone else's, then with 10.5 hours back per week, that's 546 hours per year. Now, let's assume that you can get what you want to do done, more focused in 1 hour less per day, since you're less or undistracted. Let's just take 5 days per week, time 52 weeks in a year. That's another 260 hours per year.
You're up to 806 hours per year. That's twenty 40-hour work-weeks with time to spare.
Now rank up all the projects, ideas and anything else you want to get done that requires time. Do any of them create a return on investment for you? Maybe another college degree? Writing a book? Creating an online course? Or, if you're a billable hours person, turning just half that time into labor, let's just say at $150 an hour, is an extra $60,450 per year. Wow.
I think everyone should turn off the annoying ping sound in the Mac Mail app right now.
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About the author:
James Coleman is a technologist who helps people take their technology from practical, to masterful. James is CEO and founder of TechRoom, Inc. and created Tech Concierge, a service program designed to take care of all the maintenance and management of technology for busy professionals so they can focus their time on things that matter most.