Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Productivity

How do you deal with distractions from your smartphone?

driving with smartphone

Distractions are all around us, and most of them can be blamed on that tiny supercomputer in our hands – the smartphone.

Obviously, work is where you can be most distracted.

Constantly checking your phone for emails, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or whatever app du jour you’re using can be so detrimental to completing your tasks. Push notifications make concentrating nearly impossible.

One second, you start a task in the morning. The next second, your friend sends you a message on WhatsApp about the slate of NFL games played yesterday.

Next thing you know, you’re checking on how your fantasy teams did. Then you’re researching a trade for a running back. Then negotiating said trade with other owners.

Oh man, it’s 5PM already? Time to go home!

What did you get done that day? Maybe a fantasy football trade, but maybe not even.

(BTW, that’s not me I’m talking about, it’s a hypothetical story, I swear).

I’m not only talking about work, though.

I walk my dog everyday and many times check my phone while doing it. Next thing I know, she’s eating some food scraps off the ground, and I have to worry if she’ll make me pay for my lack of attention by pooing somewhere she isn’t supposed to.

Sometimes when I play with my daughter, I’ll get distracted and check my phone. While I’m not looking, she’ll run toward our deck and lick the screen door. Or go to my dog’s water bowl and stick her hand in it. Or do something else she isn’t supposed to do.

And of course, we can’t leave out the distractions of the smartphone while driving. Dangerous.

As magical as the smartphone is, it is probably the biggest distraction ever created.

We can turn on airplane mode to avoid any incoming communications, but do we?

We can leave our phones at home when we go out for a short amount of time, or place it in another room so it’s not always with us. But do we?

How do you deal with all of the distractions that the smartphone brings? Do you ever put your phone in airplane mode, or leave it in the other room? Talk to me in the comments!

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3 ways to set artificial deadlines to get sh*t done



As an entrepreneur, you may not always have a boss breathing down your neck, client demands to meet by certain times, or hard deadlines that you need to adhere to.

Many times, it’s up to you how much work needs to get done and by when.

Thus, there may be times where you slack off every once in a while.

What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t finish that blog post by the end of the day? You’ll get to it tomorrow, right?

So what if you don’t work on your online course today? It’s not due until December!

Does it really matter if you don’t take that programming lesson today? That shit is too hard anyway, and you’ll never become a good software developer.

We’ve all been guilty of that mindset every once in a while (I hope I’m not the only one), and it really sucks when that happens.

You miss one deadline, then you do it again the next day, and then it’s a slippery slope.

So I’ve learned a few ways to set artificial deadlines to be more productive and get shit done. Check out these techniques that I’ve used.

The Pomodoro Technique

I’ve written about the Pomodoro Technique in this blog post and in my productivity ebook. It’s a great technique to enhance productivity.

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management approach where you concentrate solely on your work, with no distractions, for 25 minutes. This is one Pomodoro. After that 25 minutes is up, you take a 5 minute break and do whatever you’d like. You then repeat this throughout your work day.

I try to complete one task by the time one Pomodoro expires. Then I do it again and again for other tasks. If I have a large task to complete, I break it down into smaller tasks that I can fit into one Pomodoro.

For instance, I write a blog post like this one every morning. On most mornings, I try to complete the entire set of blogging tasks – which includes writing on this site, finding an image, including outbound links, republishing on LinkedIn and Medium, and posting to social media – all within one Pomodoro. It’s tough and I sometimes rush in the end, but it gives me that artificial deadline to meet.

For a longer blog post like this, I will split it up into one Pomodoro + 10 minutes, or  two Pomodoros, depending on my progress.

However many Pomodoros it takes, having that 25-minute deadline and countdown clock (I use staring you in the face helps immensely. Setting that artificial deadline and meeting it feels awesome and gets me going for my next task.

The “Don’t Bring Your Computer Battery to the Coffee Shop” technique

If you have a task that you really need to complete within a 2-4 hours (depending on how long your computer battery lasts), head to your local coffee shop with your laptop, but leave your charger at home.

Need to write a blog post you’ve been putting off? Do you have to crank out that research report? Gotta finish that proposal or presentation?

Leave your home or office with your laptop sans charger and head to the coffee shop, library, or co-working space.

Without a charger, you will be absolutely helpless when your battery runs out, so you’ll need to complete your task or project in the time before your charger conks out.

Even though this deadline is “artificially” set by you and your computer’s battery life, the desperation and helplessness you feel when your battery gives you a warning is as real as it gets.

I love this technique.

Paying up for missed deadlines

This is one that we’re trying here with our team at Thorn Tech.

We each set reasonable deadlines for content that we need to create, such as blog posts, tutorials, case studies, whatever.

If I don’t meet my deadline for the first draft of my piece of content, I have to pay $50 to the pot.

I then reset my deadline, and if I don’t meet that one again, I owe another $50. And so on and so forth.

We are paying cold hard cash if we slack off.

Proponents of positive reinforcement will shit all over this idea. But those who understand Prospect Theory and loss aversion will understand that many people will choose to avoid losing something of value than gaining something of equal value.

The money will go to something fun, like a company happy hour or new toys for the office, so it’s not all bad.

The idea behind this experiment is to see how fear can be a motivator, and how the deadlines that we set can be held up with consequences.

We’ll see how it goes!

Combine all three!

You can combine all three of the above to create one super-powerful artificial deadline.

Pick a task that will take under 4 hours (your laptop battery life), come to an agreement with someone to pay them some money if you don’t finish the task, head to a coffee shop without your laptop charger, and use the Pomodoro technique to crank out your work.

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

What do you think of these artificial deadlines? Are there techniques you use to get shit done? Talk to me in the comments!

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How do you create your To-Do list?

to do list

I still haven’t figured out the best way to organize my To-Do list. How do you organize yours?

I’m not just talking about the apps that you use. I’m talking more about the process in which you lay out what you need to do each day or each week.

I use Trello to organize all of my projects, tasks, and ideas. It’s very visual and flexible, and has everything I need to stay on top of all of the tasks that I need to complete.

But when it comes to those tasks making it to my daily or weekly To-Do list in a way that I get the most done, that’s where things sometimes fall off.

I just haven’t found the right process to stay as productive as I can on a daily or weekly basis.

I’ve tried creating a “Today’s To-Do” board on Trello, and listing only the tasks that I need to do that day. That seemed to work for a while, but it didn’t help me see the bigger picture of what needed to be done that week. And there would be times where a larger task due that week wouldn’t make it to my daily to-do list until the day before it was due, when it was pretty much too late.

I’ve also tried creating a “Weekly To-Do” board that had a list for each day of the week, and the tasks due each day. In this case, I would overload each day with too many tasks that I couldn’t accomplish in time. Thus, I would move the incomplete tasks back each day. This would actually be pretty discouraging, as my Friday would have a list of 10-20 tasks that I didn’t get done, and probably won’t.

So I’m trying something new. I am going to create a “Weekly To-Do” board, but instead of having a list for each day of the week, I am just going to have the typical “To-Do,” “Doing,” and “Done” lists. Then for each day, I am going to input and assign a specific time slot for each task into my Google Calendar.

I think this may provide a balance between daily and weekly To-Dos, and put more of a time structure around each task. This will also help me schedule my day around meetings and calls and makes sure that I’m not overloading my To-Do list for each day.

I’ll report back in a week or so to see how this works.

How do you create your to-do lists? What are the process and tools that you use to stay organized each day? Talk to me in the comments!

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Do you have a Plan B?

Plan B

For the most part, it’s great to have a backup plan.

When an NFL quarterback is about to run a play but sees that the defense’s setup will defend it well, he calls an audible. That’s his plan B.

If you’re applying for colleges, you don’t only apply to one school, you apply to a few of them. If you don’t get into your top choices, your safety school is your Plan B.

In those cases, it’s great to have a Plan B. It may help you minimize uncertainty and adapt to certain circumstances.

But are there times where a Plan B is detrimental? Maybe.

If you know you have a Plan B to fall back on, you might not work that hard to execute and accomplish Plan A.

Take a startup for instance. If you have a backup plan, you might not focus on your current startup idea to the fullest. Or if you’ve raised a large round of funding, you may not efficiently spend your money knowing that you have so much in the bank.

Or if you’re a very wealthy individual, you might have your future spouse sign a prenup. When things get tough, you might not try as hard to work through your problems if you know you won’t lose half of your wealth if you split up. Total speculation here, by the way.

There actually has been a study done on this, where researchers determined that merely thinking about a Plan B may diminish the probability of success of Plan A.

It’s an interesting dilemma.

On one hand, thinking of a backup plan makes total sense, as you’d like to be prepared for anything that comes your way.

On the other hand, doing so might be detrimental to your success.

What are your thoughts on devising a Plan B? Do you know of cases where a Plan B was counterproductive?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at

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Blogging everyday gave me discipline. That’s why I’m doing it again.

discipline of blogging everyday

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been pretty undisciplined with work lately. It could be because it’s the summer and the weather is nice, I’ve been on a weird travel schedule, or maybe I’ve been in a rut.

I’m not writing as much as I should be, I’ve been missing some self-imposed deadlines, and overall I just haven’t gotten as much done as I’d like.

The lack of discipline at work has trickled down to other parts of my life. I haven’t been eating that well and my visits to the gym have been less frequent.

I’m not going to say that this lack of discipline is solely due to the fact that I don’t blog everyday like I used to. But I think it’s certainly a factor. And here’s why.

First, I believe that the completion of that first task every morning gets you into a rhythm that continues throughout the day. You check off that box, which gives you momentum and confidence to attack the next task. And so on and so forth.

Second, the pressure to consistently deliver, day in and day out, keeps your mind sharp. If you’re forced to keep thinking of topics to write about, your eyes are more widely open to see different things, and things in a different way. This has a trickle-down effect to everything else that you do and your approach to other tasks and problems, and your performance improves because of it.

Finally, there’s the feedback loop that comes from creating content everyday. When I was blogging everyday, the number of interactions I had with readers was much higher. And these conversations gave me confidence that people were actually reading what I wrote, and my work had some impact. Again, that gives me confidence to do more great work.

So that’s why I’m going back to blogging every work day.

Even though it adds to my workload, I think it will make me more productive and help me perform other tasks at a higher level.

And I hope you’ll read my posts and provide feedback in the comments, on Twitter, or via email. Like I mentioned, interacting with you is part of why blogging makes me more productive. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for my lack of productivity, would you? 😉

Let’s start this journey again, today.

What are some things that you do to increase your discipline and productivity? Please comment or reach out to me at Thanks!

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