My Favorite Productivity Tool: Two-Factor Authentication

Many productivity tricks, methodologies, and tools are all about making things slightly easier. These aren’t designed to save you hours of time with each instance, but instead make tedious tasks just a little bit easier. Shave off a minute, or just a few seconds, and you lower the barrier to good productivity habits. This hopefully makes them more sustainable. Whether it’s a to-do list that uses natural language recognition or a calendar app that automatically suggests meeting times, it’s about dulling the edges of tedium.

But until recently, I hadn’t considered the opposite. What if instead of making good habits a little easier to keep, you make bad habits a little harder to do? Putting up speed bumps to make mindless wastes of time require a little more forethought. It’s an interesting idea, one that I didn’t realize I was already utilizing.

Over the last few months, I recently switched over any eligible account to using two-factor authentication. When not available, I’ve settled for text-based login verification. But either way, this is a conscious choice to make my overall online experience less convenient, but more secure. While a net positive, I thought this lack of convenience might negatively impact performance.

It turns out though that the loss of convenience became a boon for work and family. Of the sites that I use 2FA for, Twitter and Facebook were among the first ones I thought to switch. Both of these I use personally and for work. While I generally avoid browsing personal social media while on the clock, when it’s intertwined with the same notifications as work, I end up seeing (and occasionally exploring) personal items for a minute or two. The inverse to this has happened as well. Often at home, I’d open my laptop to update a social media site on some family matter, only for a work notification to cause me to go down a rabbit hole.

This is where 2FA comes in. I set my social networks to log out after each visit. While my password manager makes logging into most sites simple, adding 2FA requires just a little extra effort. It made me start questioning how often I was checking work social accounts, and by default potentially getting distracted. It made checking those accounts a decision rather than a reflex. By turning this into a task, I’m able to better put this into an overall schedule of daily activities. Not only is this much more consistent, but it’s not taking my focus away from other tasks.

At home, it’s not quite as regimented, but the same principal applies. Every time I have the laptop open and pop over to Facebook or Twitter, I’m greeted with a blank sign-in form rather than an addictive wall of content. It makes me question that if I’m only checking these sites because I’m bored, maybe there’s something better I can be doing with my time. If there’s a good reason, I’ll pull out my phone or go get it from its charger and make the effort. But it’s much more likely to make me close the laptop and do something worthwhile.

If you’re doing anything work related, 2FA is already a no-brainer. You can quibble over if app-based systems like Google Authenticator are a true second factor from a security standpoint, but they make the barrier to entry on accounts just a little higher. Better to not be the low hanging security fruit. But from a productivity side, it’s also a great way to break bad habits. If there’s a site that’s gone from visiting as a decision to a reflex, 2FA can help you get back to better habits.

About the author

Rich Stroffolino

Rich has been a tech enthusiast since he first used the speech simulator on a Magnavox Odyssey². Current areas of interest include ZFS, the false hopes of memristors, and the oral history of Transmeta.

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