Productivity Post – Solution #1: Airplane Mode

Previously I wrote a post on the problem of lack of productivity in the workplace. Productivity, as I’m defining it, is the amount of work you get done in a set amount of time.  I used the example of 8 hours in a workday being the equivalent of running close to two marathons, meaning it’s a ton of time. In this post I wanted to offer solution #1 to becoming more productive during the work day.

As you can imagine, many productivity killers are not in our control (lack of direction from leaders, interruptions from colleagues, etc) but there is one main productivity killer that is squarely in our control, our ability to FOCUS.  In today’s connected world there are many self inflicted tools we use that are distracting us from the very tasks we are trying to focus on.  Probably the biggest ones are the Internet, receiving/sending text messages, and receiving phone calls.

Studies show that anytime you get distracted while focusing on something it takes your mind 10 to 20 minutes to get back into the full mode it was in before.  And if you are tackling a difficult problem then it could be longer.  So focus is important in order to get things done in a shorter amount of time.

My simple suggestion that has worked wonders in my work environment is a nod to Apple.  I personally switch my world into “Airplane Mode”.

Airplane Mode, for those that don’t get the reference, is the little slider button on your Apple iPhone that disconnects your phone from the rest of the world (wireless and network access is turned off).  By cutting your phone off from those two connections the device becomes nothing more than an iPod, note taker, or for some just piece of metal in your pocket!

If you mimic this same “Airplane Mode” with everything around you, you too will become singularly focused on the task at hand.   Here are four VERY easy tips to go into Airplane mode:

  1. Close your door at your office or go into a quiet area to work (sometimes thats home).
  2. Turn off your computer’s wifi or unplug the Ethernet cord.
  3. Turn your phone off.
  4. Wear headphones (with the right music of course)

From my experience if you can get yourself into this mode there is a high probability your production levels will go up.  Try it for one hour and see how you do.

PS – a great site on Productivity tips is http://www.productivity501.com/ and www.workawesome.com


  • Airplane Mode is a very useful strategy for productivity.
    David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH), creator of the Ruby on Rails Web framework, has argued in some of his interviews that having less time can actually be an advantage. When you only have a small amount of time to work on something, you force yourself to become hyper-focused on whatever it is that you’re doing.
    Of course, this only works if you’re working on something that really matters to you.
    During projects when time is not much of a constraint, I find myself succumbing to the whole “Parkinson’s Law” effect often and will easily get distracted by people, news, social media, etc.
    I’ve tried employing the “airplane mode” tactic in the past and ran into two major problems:
    1) All my music is available only from a streaming service (Spotify). I tend to work better listening to music so I’m not able to listen to my playlists without an Internet connection.
    2) Research is problematic. Sometimes tasks require you to look something up online which is impossible without opening the connectivity can of worms.
    The first problem can be corrected relatively easily, but the second seems to be the biggest hurdle without resorting to purchasing a 2014 encyclopedia collection (which would still be without all the world’s knowledge).

  • Bill,
    Great points and my brother mentioned the same thing to me about the music when I posted this. As much as the Internet and the Cloud is an enabler, it can also be a distraction like you mentioned. What I’ve done with the music (because i am similar) is used my phone to play internet related music. The research, no way around that besides focusing on just that when surfing the net.
    I also follow DHH and love the books he and Jason Fried has written. I think what he says, what you’re saying, and what I am saying boils down to being able to focus. Pressure can make people focus or turning off known distractions can help people focus.
    To be productive, I think ultimately it comes down to how well you can focus on one thing at a time. I used to have an employee say he was great at multi-tasking and thats how he liked to work…. well he was terrible at getting things done and no longer works with us. Imagine that!
    Thanks for reading and for the comment.