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We often praise apps for being cross-platform, since that makes it easy to use them no matter what device you are on. However, there’s a down-side to it. If your app is everywhere, then your notifications are everywhere. To be productive, you might want to try accessing certain apps on certain devices only.
Sure, distractions can be productive too. But for a lot of people, a smooth work flow is the better way to achieve maximum efficiency.
This is not a new idea. The basis of it is that all communication is not equal and you need to prioritize. For example, productivity experts often advise checking your emails only on your phone, or accessing social networks only from your tablet to reduce the constant stream of distraction from your main work computer.
Facing a slump in my own productivity, I decided to try out this experiment. For three weeks, I segregated my apps based on devices. I have an Android phone and an iPhone, a laptop, a tablet and a desktop PC. Here’s how I set everything up for my daily work hours:
- Slack: iPhone only
- MakeUseOf Comments Moderation: iPhone only (Laptop for flagged items if needed)
- WhatsApp, Google Hangouts: Android phone only
- Facebook: Android phone only
- Twitter: Android phone only
- Writing articles: Laptop only
- Uploading articles, image editing, image sourcing: Desktop only
- MakeUseOf Email: Laptop or desktop, no phones
- Personal Email: Android or iPhone, no computers
- Kindle ebooks: Tablet only
- Reading/viewing bookmarks: Tablet only
For three weeks, I adhered to this as much as possible. Yes, there were lapses at times. For example, I had intended to use Twitter on my Android phone only, but soon discovered that I relied on Twitter far too heavily for work-related items. In fact, Twitter is one of the best ways to follow news.
The Biggest Productivity Benefit of Separating Apps
When you separate the apps, the most striking difference for me was how few times I fell down a rabbit hole. We are faced with an overwhelming stream of digital information, whether on social networks, email, IMs, or even a work colleague coming up and talking about the new viral video going around.
Instead, since I knew any link was to be read or viewed on a tablet, I found myself using Pocket a lot more heavily. Pocket is the best bookmarking tool around, but you could use any other app of your choice. The point is to not open a link when you see it, but instead to just add it to Pocket.
For that reason, I needed to have Pocket installed on all my platforms — ironic, in an experiment about platform-specific app usage. Still, I would read the saved Pocket articles only on the tablet.
It took about a week to get used to this new flow of doing things, but once I became accustomed to it, my distractions dropped down dramatically. Whether this experiment succeeds or not, this is one productivity trick everyone should implement.
Similarly, I found a new way of using Twitter, and separating my work duties by platform enabled a smoother workflow.
Does Segregating Apps Really Boost Productivity?
Yes and no.
I would encourage everyone to try this out once. Not because you will stick with it for life, but because you will get a deeper understanding of how you use different devices and apps, and tweak your usage accordingly. Segregating apps by device isn’t a long-term productivity hack; it’s a short-term hack to figure out how you should be doing things in the long term. Just like the three-strike system to prioritize your to-do list, this is useful for a short period before you move on to a new productivity system based on your learnings from it.
A good example of this is Twitter. Initially, I thought I could only access it on one phone, but found myself needing to check it more often because I was getting out of the loop, which hurts my job as a journalist.
However, by week two, I had set up a practice where I periodically checked Tweetdeck, one of the best Twitter tools for the web, and only responded to work-related or time-sensitive DMs and Mentions through it. For my random musings and personal conversations, I stuck to using Twitter from my phone.
It was a small tweak, but it stopped me from getting into long Twitter chats in the middle of a work day, or trying to follow something on Twitter when I should be writing.
How to Implement This Experiment in Your Life
While this experiment is seemingly simple to implement, there are a few things you will need to be successful.
- Keep your devices far apart. If your phone and your laptop and your tablet are all right next to you, then you’ll switch between them without thinking about it. It defeats the purpose of segregating apps by device. The point here is to make it cumbersome to use something on a different device, so when you’re using one device, make the others as difficult to access as possible.
- Change it up when necessary. The rules you start with aren’t what you will be able to enforce all the time. So, just as I decided to split my Twitter usage into work and personal, you might need to adapt your original plan to best fit your needs. That’s all right, just make sure you are trying to stick to the original.
- Set a start and stop time every day. This system is meant to boost your productivity, and you shouldn’t try to do that 24 hours a day. Maybe implement this only in your office hours, or even a sub-section of your daily office hours. It’s really up to you, but I wouldn’t advise making this a 24/7 experiment.
How Do You Stop Tech Distractions?
My biggest takeaway from this productivity experiment was the ability to deal with distractions, which are a big problem in this tech world of constant notifications. So what’s your productivity secret to deal with distractions from your gadgets?