Stop Chasing Rabbits: A Productivity/Focus “Secret”

I don’t spend a lot of time writing about “the hows” of staying focused, but I do remind you now and then about the reasons that make focus so important.

For example, I closed the post A Thousand Dollars an Hour with “The goal? To do more of the right work. The work that advances your business in massive steps.

I hope everyone can relate to that.

There’s nothing wrong with what I might call “leisure reading”, but I suggest setting aside time for it rather than doing it during time planned for work.

One thing that really helps me is to avoid “chasing rabbits”.

Have you ever seen a dog chase a rabbit? Rabbits are incredibly elusive because of their ability to quickly change direction when running at high speed. What makes them so elusive: A body designed to make radical direction changes without losing much speed.

The dog might end up running half a mile or more within a football field and might never catch the rabbit. An overhead view of the path of a rabbit eluding a predator looks like the crayon scribbles of a two-year old. It goes everywhere, randomly… just like your afternoon spent doing random browsing.

Chasing links

Your productivity suffers the same thing on the web.

It starts like this: Someone sends you a link via email, Twitter or Facebook. You follow it, it leads to another page, which leads to another and the next thing you know, the afternoon is gone and you can’t begin to remember what you did for the last three hours.

If you have the discipline to open the link in a browser tab and then not read it, you might end up with 20-30-40 browser tabs open. Not only does that slow your machine / browser down, but it’s a buffet of ready-to-serve distractions just waiting to suck you in.

Some folks might bookmark the links to get them out of their face (and out of mind so they can get back to work), but I’ve found that people rarely read the stuff they bookmarked.

Bookmarking misses the mark

Bookmarking works because you don’t have to worry about the tragic loss of that critical link that you know you need to read (a dash of sarcasm?).

For me, traditional bookmarking wasn’t effective, even via Delicious. Too much clutter? Too many clicks? Not in my face to remind me I had reading queued up? I don’t know.

What I do know is that Instapaper has, for the last few years, been the #1 “secret” tool that keeps me focused during the day.

Links come at you all day long. Click one, start reading and the next thing you know, the afternoon is gone.

Instapaper to the rescue

I don’t know why the subtle differences between Instapaper and simple bookmarks are enough to make this so much more productive for me, but they are.

Maybe it’s because I know those links will be in Instapaper when I’m in reading mode. Maybe it’s because I can archive with 2 clicks and instantly move to the next article. Maybe it’s because the queue of reading is kept in sync from my laptop to my desktop to my iPad and iPhone. Maybe the ease and speed of the Read Later bookmarklet does it.

I suspect the marriage of those things is what makes it work for me. I noticed a significant difference once I started using the free Instapaper Read Later bookmarklet. For me, it was the real key to quickly eliminating the tempting distractions without losing important reads.

If you have a Kindle, this page shows how to make Instapaper links automatically go to your Kindle.

I hope this helps you do more of the important, valuable work…all without missing out on XKCD.

PS: I’ve added a Read Later link to the bottom of posts, if you can’t use the bookmarklet for some reason.

3 thoughts on “Stop Chasing Rabbits: A Productivity/Focus “Secret””

  1. Mark,
    You hit upon one of my major problems and offered me a solution with a 3-minute read! Thank you!

    For me the problem is a little different. I read really fast so digesting material is relatively easy. I just never get around to reading the things I promise myself to read. I designate time to every day in my planner. Unfortunately, it never gets done because I do not feel like striggling through that list at the end of the day.

    Instapaper is a keeper.

    Dave

  2. When I need to focus on learning a new thing or writing a blog post I log out of all the social media sites until I am done. Sure helps keep me focused. I’ll have to check out Instapaper as I tend to bookmark things my browsers. (of course I do not have just one with numerous bookmarks!)

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