Ok, blank document - let's start this article... What does my Feedly have on productivity hacks? - HEY - are those photos of the new iPhone? - Oh, I should probably tweet tha- New email.- ok no, that first. Did I add this person on LinkedIn - wait.. Why is this blank document here?
I don't think it's an overstatement to say it's one of the defining problems of our age: our lack of attention span. The internet certainly has the power to reduce my brain to that of a goldfish and, the more you let your brain flick from task to task, the harder it is to concentrate when you need to.
This costs businesses huge amounts; according to one estimate, only 23% of all wasted time at British workplaces is categorised as ‘socialising’, while 45% of wasted time is spent ‘surfing the internet’.
At least when we socialise, we get the benefits of a real break: renewed focus and energy. On the Internet, however, work and leisure blurs into one.
Experts agree that emails and social media are particularly bad culprits within this category of it-feels-like-work-but-it-isn’t-really. So, what can we do?
Don't be a multitasker
Studies have shown that the human mind is not meant to multitask; it can even have long-term harmful effects on brain function.
Emails are problematic because we tend to think we can deal with them as they come in, alongside our other tasks, but they really are a huge distraction. Social media platforms and adverts of all kinds are designed to tempt you with articles and pictures. They go hand-in-hand with emails in reducing your productivity; often, we don't even notice it happening.
Here are some things we can do to make sure we are the ones in control, not the internet.
Set aside a time for emails:
- Flashing notifications for new emails are distracting. Turn them off and try setting aside only one/two times a day to deal with your inbox. Here are tutorials for Outlook and Gmail.
- If you’re worried you might miss something urgent, set up an automated reply with your mobile number for time-sensitive enquiries.
- If you hate going through your inbox, do this first thing in the morning. If you use emails as a way to procrastinate, set aside a time in the day when you know you’ll be low on energy.
If in doubt delete and unsubscribe
- Elliot S. Weissbluth advises unsubscribing to all but essential newsletters (if you haven’t read them in the last month or two, you probably never will) and deleting any emails if you’re unsure it needs a reply. If it’s important, someone will follow up.
- You can use this useful tool to see all the newsletters you have subscribed to and unsubscribe from unwanted ones.
File intelligently or not at all
- A good search tool, built into the mail system or through an app like CloudMagic can eliminate the need to file emails.
- Andreas Klinger has another good method for arranging your Gmail inbox to easily see which emails need responses and to clear your inbox quickly.
Can your responses
- Set up canned responses if you find yourself writing the same thing over and over again. Fast Company has a great guide for doing this on Gmail.
You could give up using emails altogether. Claire Burge is among those who have transferred almost all of their online communication to social media. She claims to save up to three hours a day!
- Send an email out to all of your contacts, notifying them of the change.
- Set up an automated reply to any emails that do come in, telling them where to reach you.
- If you need alternatives, move work ‘emails’ into collaborative spaces like Huddle, Teamwork PM, Slack, Basecamp, or Asana.
Social Media/Online Research
If you don't need it, get off it!
We can't complain about the internet; it is an amazing tool. Having said that, if we're trying to be productive and don't need the internet for the task at hand, we probably shouldn't be on it.
Get those notifications disabled
Just like with emails, it helps to turn any social media or app notifications off while working.
Here's some help:
And when I do need to use the internet?
No one is suggesting you should give the internet up all together. If the only piece of advice you take from this post is to get rid of internet distractions when they're not needed, you're doing well.
Having said that, having an internet battle plan will also go a long way! Try to:
- Focus on one task at a time, whether that be research or tackling social media.
- Tasks should be specific and manageable - rather than 'check the news', 'check news websites for recent discoveries on the brain'.
- Avoid keeping tons of tabs up at once - keep it tidy!
- Install an ad-blocker - at best ads are annoying, at worst they will capture your interest and lead you astray.
- Set aside 'free-range' internet time - if you know you have an hour later in the day where you can skip from site to site to your heart's content, you're less likely to drift away when you should be working.
- You've spotted something totally unmissable? Save it to read later. Evernote or Pocket are both great for this, as are good old-fashioned bookmarks.
Mindful.org have some great advice on using social media mindfully.
Advice on which social media manager to use.
How are you hacking your happiness?
Does the internet affect your productivity? Do you use apps like Self Control? Let us know how you deal with Internet distractions! Leave a comment below or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also subscribe to our newsletter here.