What You Have That I Don’t: Remove These Things from Your Life to Instantly Become More Productive

Why are so many other people in the world more successful than you?

As you read this blog post, you are not only going to discover the answer, but you are going to be surprised that most people who get more things done than you don't have MORE stuff to do in their life. They actually have LESS things to do.

Let's figure out what you can REMOVE from your life to become more successful, more productive - and therefore make more money.

Clutter: Paper And Notes

I have told you before many times how much I hate paper. Paper is imperfect. You write on it and you can't really change what is on the paper. It takes up space. You can't always find it. And it distracts you.

I often hear people recommend you do silly things like write the amount of money you want to make per month and put it on your computer monitor. Or write your daily "To Do" list and put it on your wall. Or even (the silliest of them all!) have a whiteboard! Yuck, I hate whiteboards.

Are you kidding me? How often does your whiteboard really change? Chances are, when you first got that whiteboard, you wrote on it every day. But then you let it sit for a month or longer with the same exact stuff written on it.

You can't have all that stuff around your office distracting your attention. If you have got something to write, send it to someone in an email. Or write it as a blog post. Or post it to your Accountability Blog. Or write it in EverNote. But put it down and file it away so it doesn't distract you.

And because it is filed away in a computer system, it is very easy to find, especially if you need to search for it.

Remove paper from your life.

Time Killer: Cable TV

I don't think it is a coincidence that five years ago I stopped getting cable TV, and that was also when I started to get a lot more accomplished.

With TV, it is way too easy to sit down, flip channels, and before you know it, an hour or two has gone by. If we all lived for ever, cable TV would be a great invention. But because you will never get tomorrow back, or last week back, last month, or even last year, back, you shouldn't waste time on cable TV.

I am all for watching a DVD or watching a movie. But having that ability to wander and get distracted, especially by commercials, is not a good thing.

Remove cable TV from your life.

Distractions: Instant Messaging, Email and Pop-Ups

Back when I hosted webinars for people, so many of those webinars were interrupted by someone's chat box appearing. You may have heard the statistic that "Once you get distracted, it takes you at least fifteen minutes to regain focus."

That means that if you were distracted twice, by only a few seconds each time, every hour, you have just lost half of your productivity.

Your computer needs to be a hot seat. When you have a task you need to finish, such as posting on forums, replying to emails, writing articles, scheduling blog posts, finishing that chapter - whatever it is, close your instant messaging, close the browser that is open to your email. Otherwise you will see that "1 New Message" and HAVE to click on it!

Close Tweet deck or any other program that can pop up and distract you with a new message. It's okay - the world will still be there when you turn those programs back on after your pressing matter is finished!

Turn off the instant messages.

And those are the top three things that you should definitely remove from your life if you want to become twice as productive - or even more.

Are you going to remove one of the three from your life? If not, what one thing can you remove from your life RIGHT NOW to eliminate distractions and get more accomplished?

Leave a short comment in the form below.

Filed in: MindsetProductivity

Comments (26)

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  1. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for another great post as usual 🙂

    As a matter of fact I don’t have cable TV for about 3 years now. It was in my way and i didn’t had time to watch it so the TV set was just sitting there…

    Don’t worry! I get my news and movies and everything else online.

    But I’m not sure I’m on the same page with you on paper… I mean, I do undertand you’re point of view about writing on paper versus writing in digital format.

    But you have to understand writing it down on real paper is much stronger, it’s emotional. When you write in digital format all it takes is a backspace button and it’s gone.

    Why do you think the top copy writers in the world today prefer to write down paper. Ask John Carlton. I’m sure he has some spicy stuff to say about the subject.

    Okay. I’m getting way ahead of my self here, sorry 🙂

    Thanks again for the post.

    Regards, Remi

  2. I got rid of cable 4 years ago, and record anything I think I may watch on television. Most of that gets deleted before I ever get to it because it isn’t ‘top of consciousness’ for me.

    I never got into the whole IM thing, and now I’m very glad. That seems like a total waste of time.

    Paper…now that’s a different story. Maybe it’s because I am a grandmother, but anything handwritten by someone I care about is very special to me.

    How about this – no paper unless it is connected with emotion and memories – does that work?


  3. Robert Plank says:


    That’s different. I don’t take birthday cards and things like that into my office, that’s a work area. Having that stuff around me makes me want to stop what I’m doing and call someone to see how they’re doing.

    I’d rather knock out my daily tasks quickly, leave my office area for the rest of the day and then go hang out with someone.

    It’s not good to live in your office…

  4. I love my White board. It has eliminated much of the paper clutter around my desk. I post my daily “to dos” on my white board and clear them off when accomplished. I love that part.

    I have opted out of all e-mail lists with the exception of four people I follow. It really keeps the distraction down. Information overload was distracting to me.

    TV… what’s that. I sometimes wonder why I’m paying for cable… except that my sons and son-in-laws love to watch football when they come over for Sunday dinner.

    I’m like Connie. I keep every tidbit of written material from my kids and grands. I have a post-it-note my 33 year old daughter wrote to me 27 years ago attached to the wall behind my computer.

  5. Great post as always Robert.

    I disagree with the whiteboard, if I had room here in the dorms I’d get one. Currently the only way for me to organize my thoughts is to write them down.

    For some reason digital note taking doesn’t work for me, even though I’m the biggest geek you’ll ever meet.

    Plus, I think it’s good to write some things down and keep it up for a bit, especially if it’s a reminder like: Pick up parents from airport on XYZ day (or so).



  6. Hi Robert, thanks for the nudge. I have seen my productivity rise since I stopped watching TV. Now we have a family film night once a week and that’s it.
    I do love Connie’s idea of just coming onto social media in short 10-20 min bursts. I will be doing that this week. I also have notebooks that I write ideas down in – I’m sure there’s a more useful way of capturing that info – I’ll work on that too.
    Love & best wishes
    Heather x

  7. Tim Linden says:

    Got Kids? LOL That’s my biggest distraction. That’s why I kinda disagree with you. I found having a small pad with 1-3 items of what I’m trying to do “right now” helps. That way when they bust down the door and then leave, I can look and say oh yes this is what I’m in the middle of doing.

  8. Robert Plank says:


    Lance has a kid. He teaches her boundaries… which means when he’s in the office, don’t disturb.

  9. Sarah says:

    I have stopped spending up to 8 hours a day on cable TV (did that when I was on maternity leave) beginning of this year, and used that time to do my IM. Got a lot more done. Pretty much stopped watching TV except on Sundays when I go back to my parents’ place.

    1. Delete my emails. I keep emails for reference and I can easily use google to search for the ones I need. I subscribe to huge loads of lists to keep myself in the loop and learn from others on how to do their email makerting. I realised (and also learnt from you) that I should delete them once I’m done.

    I’ve started removing myself from junk lists, and also deleting mails, but 25000 emails will take a long time.

  10. Christine says:

    I love paper! It’s tactile, and I use it to clear stuff out of my brain (that needn’t be kept) and then I dump it.

    I agree with a couple of others on the whiteboard. I use it to plot out processes so I can SEE it. And I can do that faster than using flowchart software. I erase it once I’ve got it branded in my mind.

    The TV thing has been a HUGE distraction since I got married, because I married a TV addict. Cable is so boring, though, that I just had my husband read this post and he has agreed to cancel cable TV! So I’m removing the TV from my life.

    Yay! Thanks, Robert!


  11. You really notice the waste of time AND the hypnotic effect of television when you have children. As a behavior modification expert I can tell you children and adults react in the same manner to the same stimuli. Adults are simply less obvious about it in most cases

  12. Totally agree about cutting out TV. I haven’t had cable / TV reception for over 7 years now, and don’t miss it a bit. I did it naturally because I never had time to watch it, so cancelled cable and have never looked back.

    Cutting down on paper has been a big help too. Once I discovered Microsoft OneNote I was in heaven. I use it for everything! No more yellow pads of paper filled with notes that I can never relocate again. I’d much rather have it all in my computer (backed up, of course) because (1) I can search and find anything I’ve “misplaced” and (2) I can type a heck of a lot faster than I can write by hand.

    Biggest distraction right now (when I’m procrastinating) is to check email too often. I’ve heard the twice a day only (4 Hour Work Week idea), but I haven’t been able to get myself to that point yet. I don’t, however, let email come in on its own. The only way I get email is I have to hit the Send/Receive button….which means if it is distracting me it’s all my fault!! So I’m going to just close the window and see if that helps.

    Thanks for this, Robert! Always like your articles on productivity.

  13. Joyce Hansen says:

    Hi Robert,
    I’ve already ditched the TV, I’m purging my e-mail list of old posts and people who’s products are not a match for me, and I’m working on the paper piles.

    It’s amazing how quickly things pile up if you wait to deal with things later. Thanks for tips.

  14. Christine says:

    I’ve just thought of another HUGE time waster: the computer.

    I’ve read your writings that label sitting in front of your computer as “the hot seat”, and you’ve followed that up with the advice that after completing your tasks you should get out of the office and go have a life.

    Drawing the line between computer for work and computer for play. Hmm. Where’s that “time” line?


  15. We have cable TV, but I bet I don’t watch an hour a week. Hubby is a sports fanatic, so I might watch a game sometimes with him while I have my laptop with me – HOLD YOUR BREATH – multitasking. Or maybe sometimes I’ll take a break late in the evening and go into the den and knit for awhile, just to be in the same room.

    As for paper, I’m trying to go paperless. I hooked up a scanner and anything I think I may have to refer to, I scan it and keep a digital copy. I write better at a computer, not on a legal pad.

    I know what you say about email, but I have to differ with you on this one. I agree that email has to be turned off for short periods of time while I concentrate on other things, (and I NEVER use IM or chats and NEVER keep TweetDeck up) BUT, my primary business is a telecommunications consulting firm and a virtual PBX company. I have hundreds of customers that I have trained to email me for customer service instead of calling. So email is my lifeline to keeping things running smoothly. Because I serve a large sector of the medical community, quick response to problems is critical. If I didn’t check email for days at a time as I have heard you say, I wouldn’t have a company. I have to believe that you are primarily talking to people who have the luxury of working on ONE business, primarily an online marketing business. I’m moving toward working at my online business more, and eventually selling the telecommunications business, but until them — the email has to be more important than checking it twice a day.

    I try to go by David Allen’s guidelines —
    If you can do it in two minutes, do it now
    If you can delete it, or trash it, do that
    If you can delegate it, do that
    If you can defer it, have a good system in place to get it done ASAP.

    I am not a naturally organized person and I will always have to work harder than some to keep my desk and my life clutter-free.


  16. OK… I don’t use paper. I left my last TV in an apartment I moved out of in 1986… so no cable, no TV.

    I have my skype and im open, but I only get disturbed when it’s important… maybe once every 2-3 days, because I don’t have them under my regular name.

    I have learned to ignore my cats yowling…

    Email is still a big enemy: when I close it I get anxious. but funnel all “just an email” emails into folders, and check altogether my coaching client account, and 4 senders: your are one of them.

  17. Hate paper. No cable. Hate IM.

    But I’m still on waaaaay too many email lists.

    BTW I do take notes at webinars and such because that is the way my mind works. Once I have written something down, I can remember it, because I can *see* it.

    I discovered in school that if I made notes in class I generally did not have to actually study them. Making the notes fixed the info in my mind. It was the stuff I thought was so obvious that I would not forget (so I did not write it down) that I did forget. That is still the way my mind works.

    But if info is worth keeping, I would rather keep it on my computer. Still, sometimes hand-written notes are faster.

    And why do people always assume that we read email continuously and expect an instant response to their messages? Who has time for that? I’ll bet they don’t; yet they expect instant responses.

    At first I thought reading these posts would be a distraction, but I find that they make me think. Thanks!

  18. I’ve got a lot of email-purging to do and realistically about 50-60 “unsubscribes” I need to take care of.

    I don’t like instant messaging at all and I don’t use it. I even hate that people can interrupt me with the “chat” feature on Facebook when I’m trying to quickly get these done there. When I see that box pop up, I don’t smile, I cringe. Maybe there’s some way to block that feature.

    Yes, I have cable TV. No, I don’t watch much TV – maybe two hours a week and most weeks not at all. My teenagers do the TV watching in my house.


  19. Jeff Bode says:

    Robert I definitely agree with you on this one…

    I hate writing on paper, hardly ever watch TV although I have a few shows that I like to watch, but usually watch a recording – the only instant messaging I use is Skype and I always have it set to do not disturb, invisible or completely off. – My distraction is email even though I only actually open and read a handful of emails a day.

  20. Now I have to be the antagonist here. I watch TV and I use paper. But I don’t use IM – one out of 3 is still batting 333 – and that’s GOOD!

    I gave up TV for a year or so, but I found that I was missing social references to things that happened on TV. And that made my communication with my prospects and customer more sterile. Since I work with people who are new to the Internet and others who have not yet given up TV, I find that I lost touch with them if I didn’t understand what they were talking about.

    We are also a huge sports family – in fact, a good amount of our communication is centered around sports. So I like to keep up. Often late in the evening I’ll watch ESPN or have Charlie Rose (not sports!) on in the background – so the house isn’t so quiet.

    I love paper. I don’t read well from the screen – yes, I’ve tried. But it doesn’t sink in. So I print and take things with me to my famous lunches. I spent a couple of hours out of the office every day – that’s where all the planning, all the thinking, all of the ideas come. For me the computer is a work tool. It is not the work.

    So I have a different approach – but it’s working for me and has been for many years. (I know it drives Robert nuts! 🙂 ) He’ll tell me I’m missing a lot of what I could be doing by holding onto these old habits.

  21. It’s definitely a good idea to weed out unnecessary elements from our everyday tasks. You are quite right to point towards television. I don’t spend much time on that, except news programs.

    I definitely agree we must all find ways to be more effective – in each our way.

  22. Warren says:

    Email is the hardest thing to get rid of.

    On the big picture front, I have reduced the time I spend by creating filters to send priority emails to 6 folders. I am also slowly unsubscribing from things I thought were important several years ago.

    I go through email in a two pass process.

    1) Quick scan through Senders deleting anything I don’t need to read.

    2) Quickly viewing each email left. If there is an action to take, taking it immediately and not leaving it till later.

    TV is going to be tough to get rid of in my household. I will have to focus on not spending my time in front of it.

    Thanks for the ideas, Robert.

  23. wal gifford says:

    Yes Robert, these are the three biggies that rob you of your time, which is “the stuff that life is made of”, as one of my great mentors always said.

    It is a well known fact that the level of achievment in life is inversely proprotional to the amount one wastes gawking at the idiot box, although viewing documentarties aor some limited entertainment in a planned manner is fine.

    I always check my emails once per day after I have DONE my challenges for the day first, and I use my accountability blog to organize that.

    I have been cutting down on paper but still use that to plan and cut down on shopping time!

  24. Clyde Reid says:

    It looks like I am actually doinf better than I thought. We have cable TV here because my wife would have withdrawals without it and we get a better deal from them with cable, phone and Internet than from anyone else in our neck of the woods. As far as watching it goes, only if I happen to walk into the living room, which I try to stay out of if I am working.

    Paper, now that is a different subject. I take notes when I study The Bible, especially if I am studying for a message to preach or something to teach. I need the notes to have with me when it is time to deliver. Although it seems, as one young lady mentione, if I write it down and take the notes with me I hardly need to use them.

    What was that other one? Oh, e-mail. I don’t IM or anything like that and I usually only check my mail twice a day. Maybe more often if I am looking for a reply on something important. The good thing is I am down to about 6 mailing lists and am looking at cutting back even more.

    My biggest distraction is actually getting started in the morning. I love to sit out on the porch with a cup of coffee and enjoy the morning. Problem is that keeps me from getting started much before noon most days. I guess that part does not matter as much since I usually work until way late. That is unless one of those unplanned afternoon outings pops up. Man, I love this lifestyle.

  25. Andrew says:

    I find digital notes too easy to lose, so use paper and a white board. The computer screen is my work area.

  26. Britt Malka says:

    Get rid of paper? No, way, never. I love paper. A new pretty notebook is inspiration for me.

    Anyway, I use Evernote, like you said, and I mostly use paper for temporary notes like “Runed Scarlet Ruby” to remind me to get that recipe for my jewelcrafter in World of Warcraft.

    And then I’m guilty of printing out e-books. Two pages on each site, and in black and white, but I do print them out. I read them much faster and more effectively, when I have them on paper, and where I can highlight specific areas and keywords.

    As for TV – don’t even know what that is. I’ve never watched a lot of TV, not even the news (boooring anyway), and the last 10 years, I’ve only seen TV a few times a year. Zero the last two years.

    I am guilty of having Twhirl serve me new Tweets, that’s true, and I also have my IM turned on all the time, but I have VERY few contacts on them, so I rarely get disturbed.

    Nobody has our phone number. I hate phones. THEY are so intrusive.

    Well, that’s about it for my sins and deeds. I must remember to turn off Twhirl more, when I’m working on a project, but besides that I think I’m on the right track.

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