For many workers, summertime is not vacation time. Rather, it’s another holiday forfeited or another trip spent responding to emails, attending meetings, and enduring the scorn of family members. According to a Glassdoor survey, American workers forfeited nearly 50 percent of their paid vacation in 2017, and almost 10 percent take no vacation days at all. The study points to the fear of falling behind as the number one reason people aren’t using their vacation time.
Before you make your summer plans, try a few new approaches to increase your productivity so you can feel confident that you cleared your task list before taking time off.
Windows 10 Focus Assist
According to surveys conducted by Microsoft, most people spend between three and six hours every day looking at screens. Relentless distractions make it hard to focus.
In April, Microsoft released Windows 10 Focus Assist (known as Quiet Hours in earlier versions of Windows 10), which enables you to turn off notifications on your computer. Here’s how it works:
You can customize Focus Assist by creating automatic rules—set it to turn on at certain times of day, on weekends, or on weekdays; when you’re duplicating your display (giving a presentation, for example); when you are at home; or when you are playing a DirectX game. You can also tailor Focus Assist with a priority list—you can create exceptions for app-specific and people-specific notifications.
Windows 10 Timeline
Few people would disagree that distractions are costly to productivity. Personal experience and research thoroughly, consistently back up the claim. In a study of memory and distraction, researchers at Canada’s Simon Fraser University discovered that people who perform well on memory tasks were able to suppress distractions—those who didn’t perform as well couldn’t suppress distractions quickly enough to prevent interruptions from grabbing their attention.
If you are unable to eliminate distractions, or if you are the type of person who has trouble suppressing them, Microsoft’s Windows 10 Timeline feature aims to make work easier. Timeline can track what documents and Web pages you’ve been working on over the past weeks and months, and organizes them into a collection of documents you can access quickly to pick up where you left off.
If You Can’t Suppress Distractions, Drown them Out with Noise
The open office layout trend may be fueling collaboration, but it’s having the opposite effect on focus and productivity. Most people are familiar with “white noise,” but there are many other “colors” of noise—some of which can be used to minimize auditory distractions.
White: True white noise is a mixture of all the frequencies humans can hear—for example, the TV static when nothing is broadcasting. White noise is best if you want to simply drown out annoying sounds.
Pink: What most people think of as “white noise” is actually pink. It serves the same purpose of drowning out all other sounds, but is less grating and harsh. Pink noise is best for sleep, which isn’t best for productivity.
Brown: While not a noise color—its name is derived from the theory of Brownian motion—brown noise is a deeper sound, like ocean waves. Brown noise is useful for helping people focus.
See this guide for more noise colors.
The benefits of improved focus and productivity extend well beyond vacation plans. They can make employees more effective, successful, and fulfilled in their careers.
Jen is an award-winning journalist who writes about workplace productivity and technology for Vitalyst. She believes in the power of using plain language, especially when writing about technology, and lists “achieving and enabling clarity” among her life goals.