My desk at Pixo is covered in a pile of UX and content strategy books, a mug of Papermate Flair pens, art by Zoe Si, a phone that never rings, and a small vase of water (the home of three fuzzy marimo, all named Gary). In eight minutes and forty-three seconds, I’ll allow myself to get up and walk around the room, or scavenge the Pixo Cafe for a mid-afternoon snack. As I type this post, the sounds of my keyboard are drowned out by a passing train … and an oscillating fan … and a crackling fire.
Otherwise I’ll never get anything done.
I work in a big room (the “Hall of Justice,” to those in the know) with tall ceilings, a skylight, and at least 12 other people — from designers to developers — at any given time. Our project teams don’t always overlap, and some of them are building apps or developing websites that I know very little about. Since the work we do at Pixo is all about iteration, it’s not uncommon for someone to pipe up with questions for another person sitting across the room, or for a team to hold a stand-up status meeting at the desk next to mine as I work.
Our shared space is one of my favorite things about my job. It lets us get answers and improve our work quickly (it’s also great for organizing coffee runs and impromptu Nerf basketball breaks). But occasionally — when I’m creating deliverables against a deadline, or need to tackle a task I’ve been avoiding — my beloved open office environment can feel like the enemy of focus.
Luckily, the app world is way ahead of me. These tools are guaranteed to transform me from a distracted millennial into a productivity machine:
Practically perfect web app for background noise. You can custom-mix an assortment of sixteen sounds or listen to pre-selected blends for productivity or relaxation. As soothing as I find the audio cocktail of Train + Pink Noise + Fan + just a touch of Thunderstorm, the website itself is a real triumph, too — as you listen, the page slowly transitions from color to color. Passersby will comment on the beauty of the site, but you won’t hear them, because you’ll be too focused on your work thanks to the steady sound of a train, or owls, or a rain shower, or a fan, or …
The UX & Design team at Pixo recently started using Trello to keep track of our internal projects, like blog posts and sales leads, and within a few hours of creating my first cards on the shared board, I’d made one for my daily life. We mimic agile workflow on these boards, and it’s always a pleasure to move cards to the “Done” column, whether they say “Write Conference Talk” or “Buy Cotton Balls.”
Since Pixo is a consultancy, tracking and billing our project time is essential to the company doing important things, like existing. Toggl is my preferred tool for time tracking. The web app lets me use a timer or enter time manually and categorize my tasks by project and client. The Chrome extension adds timers to Google Docs and nags me lovingly if it senses that I’m doing work but not tracking time.
There’s nothing like the feeling of finishing a productive day at the job I love, but when I have a long list of to-dos, the pull of “I’ll figure that out later” is undeniable. The Pomodoro Technique isn’t new or mysterious — basically, the big idea is that you … focus. On one task. At a time. Revolutionary, right?
There are plenty of free apps to guide you through Pomodoro; the one I’m into right now is called Pomodoro Time. It’s a lightweight little app that counts down 25 minutes, rings when the time is up, and sets me up for a five-minute Facebook/Ann Friedman Weekly/HipChat break before the next focus phase begins.
Am I proud that I need little rewards just to maintain focus for 25 minutes at a time? I never claimed to be proud, my friend. I just claim to be productive.