Disabling Command+T and the Productivity Tax

Sep 19, 2017

Whenever you squander attention on something that doesn’t put your brain through its paces and stimulate change, your mind stagnates a little and life feels dull.

— Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life


Disabling Command+T on my mac was one of the best things I’ve done to be more productive this year. I wasted less time on distracting websites and spent more time in the zone getting work done.

Command + T: The Saboteur that Hinders Deep Work

Command+T is the shortcut I use to quickly open a new tab in my browser and load a website. It’s muscle memory and makes it ridiculously easy to open a new tab and do what I need to do.

Couple that with browser autocomplete and superfast internet, and it takes under 200ms to go from doing work to browsing reddit (command+t, r, enter), my facebook newsfeed (command+t, f, enter), or hacker news (command+t, n, enter).

While it’s easy, I’ve always worried about how this impacts my productivity. With switching costs so low, I don’t even have to think before distracting myself. Left brain vs. right brain dichotomy. We’re incredibly lucky to live in a time when novelty is 200ms away, but it’s easy to overindulge. I found myself falling back to this shortcut and browsing away.

So one day I decided to get rid of this superpower.



Losing Command+T

Fortunately, implementing behavioral change is easier than it seems. I remapped command+t at the OS level, so instead of opening up a new tab, it would invert my screen color and play an unpleasant sound (I chose the harrowing amber alert tone).


I can still open new tabs, but it takes a lot more effort to do it now. Fitt’s law makes it a lot harder for me to open up a new tab, because I have to move the mouse over the small + icon to open up a new tab.


The first day was tricky and I triggered the amber alert at least 10 times. But my brain quickly adapted and I stopped using the shortcut as much. And interestingly, I also stopped browsing distracting websites as well.

RescueTime shows that I averaged 4h/week on “distracting” webistes before, but I’m now averaging 30 minutes/week after making the change.

I initially thought that I’d find new ways to open distracting websites (like command + N or some other shortcut), but I never adopted the habit.

This is by no means scientific and anecdotal at best, but I encourage you to try the same.


Small habits compound.