We’ve all gone “down the online rabbit hole” more than a few times. While scanning articles online, trying to get some mundane task or another done, we’ll think, “Hey, maybe I’ll just check Twitter real quick.” Or, “Let’s see what’s in the news.” “How is ***insert sports team name here*** doing in the standings, anyway?” And so on.
A website content developer like me spends a lot – and I mean a LOT – of time surfing the web, researching and reading. In fact, I hate to admit this, but I definitely spend less time actually writing than I do clicking on links in the hopes of finding the perfect inspiration. It took me a long time to realize that not only was I procrastinating, the constant influx of information was actually causing a form of writer’s block. How could I possible measure up to all those clever tweets? How does that New Your Times writer know all that stuff and make it sound so good? Why, I mean WHY, am I even trying at this impossible profession?
The very best thing that could have happened to me was a conversation with a friend who runs the social media for a very large public transportation company (which you can imagine is as stressful as an air traffic controller). I asked her how in heaven’s name she was able to come up with all that content daily, and make it seem so effortless?
She said social media takes a lot of planning and scheduling, and that her posts were often crafted well in advance. She also admitted to agonizing over tweets and posts for hours, trying to make sure they were the right combination of witty and informative. And that her job itself was often a distraction (her business account has more than 10,000 often-hilarious followers), and so she had to find some ways to not allow herself to be interrupted.
So, that made me feel better. I wasn’t the only one! Since then I’ve gotten better at ignoring the online noise when trying to work (although the rabbit hole stills beckons every now and then). Here’s how.
How to Block Out Distractions
First, have a look at your online usage. There are lots of apps like RescueTime.com, Eternity (Apple) and My Minutes (Apple) that can help you achieve a better work/life balance. They will help you track your online habits, tell you when you’re wasting your time, encourage you to set goals and congratulate you when you achieve them. Simply by seeing that, whoops, I spent more than two hours on Facebook in a span of 5 hours total (visiting in 10-minute increments) was enough for me to cut my time back significantly through the, frankly, embarrassing shame I felt. The Washington Post has reported that it takes at least 23 minutes to focus again after you have been distracted, so the amount of time I was wasting was, well, substantial.
Second, take advantage of your most productive times. Medical Daily says that your brain is at its peak about two hours after waking up. So for most of us, that’s pretty much when we’re sitting down at our desks. Schedule your most difficult, must-do tasks for first thing. Trust me, you’ll feel pretty good when they are completed and you still have plenty of time left in the day. Time to celebrate with a short break!
Yes, breaks are good for keeping your focus, not losing it. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s not. A proper break (this means getting up from your desk and physically removing you from your work) allows your brain to refresh and refocus, allowing you to return with a new perspective. A Draugiem Group study suggests that for every 52 minutes of work, you should rest for 17 minutes.
Next, designate times to look at your email — hopefully after you have completed your most important mission for the day. I had a bad habit of checking several times an hour and stopping what I’m doing to respond immediately. Unless it’s an emergency, this is totally not necessary. Here’s what I do. First thing in the morning I’ll take a quick look to see if there’s anything pressing. Then I will leave it until after I have completed my main goals for the day. Then I’ll answer what’s there. At the end of the day I’ll check and answer again.
Now, how to avoid being distracted by social media and tantalizing “click bait” links when surfing. This was the hardest for me. Start by turning off all your notifications. Unless social media is your full-time job like my friend, you don’t need to know the instant your friends post another cute dog or kid video. Then, I make sure to keep the amount of windows I have open to a minimum. If Instagram is available in a tab it’s an irresistible temptation. Another trick is to sign out every time after being on social media. Not only does this keep your information safer, the hassle of having to sign back in is often enough for me to not even bother. And when I really need to get some writing down I’ll shut down my Internet browser after I have found and saved all the information online I need to move forward in a separate document.
Finally, remember that being distracted causes stress! If you’re like me, you didn’t really enjoy the time you were spending on social media or Googling. I knew what I was doing, and that was not being productive, which in turn caused anxiety. Reducing disruptions has also reduced stress.
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