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Using a computer can become second nature. You can open, use and close applications without evening knowing it. Take a look at your desktop now – how many programs are running? One . . . two . . . ten . . . a hundred?

While some of these programs may be essential for working others may not help your productivity at all. In fact, some may seriously hinder it.

Most webmasters, bloggers, et cetera will spend most or all of their working day hooked up to the World Wide Web; they will have a “routine” – a series of programs they periodically run and interact with throughout the day. For example, every couple of hours or so a certain webmaster may check a couple of email accounts, open up some RSS feeds, log into Google AdSense, chat to a friend on MSN Messenger and post a couple of replies in a forum.

All these things sound perfectly harmless

After all, any good webmaster needs to keep up-to-date with correspondence, keep abreast of the level of traffic to their site and the revenue generated, et cetera. However, it’s best to do these things in a structured way. Allocate a certain amount of time to do your routine and stick to it. Unless you have exceptional circumstances (more on this later) for that particular day you should limit yourself to these activities once a day.

This is easier said than done

The average desktop has many applications, such as RSS readers and email clients, that notify you of things as and when they come in. Other applications like instant messengers are just plain distracting.

To improve your productivity try allocating set work times throughout the day (this is a full working day minus breaks and minus how long your routines takes to do once). During these work times you can get more done by closing down these applications:

Email Accounts. Like mobile phone calls, people have the tendency to think that all emails are urgent and must be replied to right away. Look through your emails. Really, how many of them are that urgent? If you reply to emails at a set time each day you’re guaranteeing a 24 hour reply to their mails. That’s pretty good going.

RSS Readers

In a way subscribing to RSS feeds can be even more distracting than email. Some feeds (take Google News for example) send out dozens of new items per hour. It’s only takes one of them to catch your eye and you can spend the next hour reading about something you really don’t need to know about. Again, go through all your feeds during the same period you look through your emails. Does it really matter if you read it a few hours after everyone else?

Instant Messengers

While useful, instant messengering programs are the ultimate time wasting applications. They’re great to quickly pick someone’s brains about something but it’s rare that’s what they’re used for. You can quickly find yourself reminiscing with friends on what happened at the weekend when you should be working. Keep your instant messaging programs switched off while you’re working – if people want to get in touch with you about anything important they will ring or call.

Web Browsers

Okay, you can’t keep your web browser closed down. It’s part of the staple diet of the web developer / blogger. There are certain sites you should avoid though, read on:

Web Stats and Revenue

So your new blog post is doing well on . . . your new tutorial was accepted on Pixel2Life. The desire to look at your web stats is natural for any webmaster – after all it’s a fundamental way to check how your site is progressing. As with email though, what benefit is there to checking your stats more than once a day (be honest, weekly or even monthly is good enough for most sites)? With sophisticated stats software like Google Analytics it’s easy to get lost in the maze of data that’s available. It’s good that you study this data but there is a time and a place for it. The same applies for any sites you use to generate revenue. Limit your login to these sites to daily. Don’t worry, the money will still be there when you do log in.

Community Sites

Bookmarking sites and forums can drain our time easily. Sites with a strong community have posts that are quickly replied to ergo the content is changing all the time. You can enter a forum to look for a reply to a problem only to leave it two hours later having another twenty posts under your belt. Unless it’s directly related to work (e.g. problem solving, website promotion) keep well away from such sites.

There are, of course, exceptional circumstances. If you’re training a client overseas to use some software then use your instant messenger if it helps. If you’re expecting an emails for a blog writing contest with a deadline then keep your email open. You get the picture.

Test this idea out: make a list of your daily tasks, referred to in this article as your “routine” and allocate a time of the day to do them (the last working hour of the day is good for most people as they wind down at that point) and follow the advice above. You’ll find less is more, that is, the less applications you have open the more work you get done.

Tim Bennett is a freelance web designer from Leeds. He has a First Class Honours degree in Computing from Leeds Metropolitan University and currently runs his own one-man web design company, Texelate.