Staying focused online is one of the biggest challenges people who work or study from a computer face these days. I’ll be honest with you, it’s definitely one of mine. Even before the digital boom I found it challenging to stay focused on my intended task and now in the era of apps and notifications and never-ending live streams of social media, my daily work of not getting sucked into something has intensified. (Especially during election times!) But don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to do anything extreme like quit Facebook, (unless you want to!), because in reality, many of these sites and apps have actually brought me tremendous value. But I believe there are ways to interact with this stuff mindfully so you can use your time how you truly intend to.
Our favorite sites and apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Gmail are designed to pull our attention and keep us where they want us. They have whole teams of people working to keep us engaged in their content, so the first thing we have to do is be kind to ourselves. Because of how it easy it to get sucked in, we may end up feeling like failures–like we have no will power and if only we could find the perfect herbal mushroom concentration tea or Spotify instrumental playlist, all would be well. The truth is, what we need is a strategy.
Just this morning I went to search my email for a very specific thing and when I got there, saw two emails I hadn’t addresses from the day before. I responded to those and then my phone buzzed with a notification about a new progressive voter guide for the upcoming election so I forwarded that on to a few people and suddenly realized at least 30 minutes had passed since I had opened my computer to search for that first specific message.
We are not superhuman. (Well, most of us, anyway.) So instead of beating ourselves up or permanently going off the grid (I get tempted sometimes), let’s take steps toward quieting the distractions.
Depending on what kind of work you want to get done, adjust these steps to fit your needs:
- Bye-bye phone. Unless there’s a major reason not to, turn off your phone, put it on airplane mode or put it in another room so you aren’t tempted. Also consider turning off your notifications and use your favorite apps only when you make a conscious choice to do so.
- Shut off your wifi. If you aren’t actually working online, turn your wifi off. If you end up wanting to check something, turn it on and open a fresh browser. Try using a trick like holding something awkward in your hand or putting a thin book in your teeth while you do the online task to remind you not to wander. When you complete the search, shut the tab and turn off your wifi again. Sometimes I purposely work from a cafe that has no internet access so I can’t get distracted as easily.
- Close everything else. I have an unhelpful habit of leaving Final Cut open on my computer to remind me to come back to something. Or leaving a document open on Pages that I haven’t finished yet. Close out of everything you aren’t using and add those items to a to-do list to come back to later. Or schedule some time for them on your calendar. You might want to clean up your desktop as well.
- Use designated browsers. I use Firefox for personal/whatever online stuff and Chrome for work. When you sit down to work or study, open just that browser and close out of the other one.
- Use site blockers on your work browser (or both!). StayFocused is a great one for Chrome and LeechBlock works for Firefox. StayFocused is a bit more customizable, but both of these tools will allow you to block certain sites you tend to get distracted by. If you know you always lose time on Twitter, block that sucker.
- Set timers. I use sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for my business so I have to work extra hard not to engage in the wrong stuff or spend more time there than I actually have. This is why I like timers. If you need to use a site you know tends to be a black hole for you, set a timer. And when that sucker goes off, move on.
Any of you mastered your online work flow? Share your tips in the comments below~