by TeachThought Staff
Ed note: This post has been updated from a 2012 post
One of 21st-century life’s cruelest ironies is that technology has saved us a lot of time, which we then turn around and spend using said technology.
American attention spans have dropped to a demoralizing five minutes. Most of us are constantly being bombarded by distractions, from coworkers to texts and emails to enticing Web headlines. The good news is Skynet has not taken over yet; we can still control the machines and manipulate them to not hinder our concentration.
You don’t necessarily have to be prone to being distracted to sit down to work only to find yourself shopping for pearl snap shirts on eBay and wondering how you got there. StayFocused is a Google Chrome plug-in that lets you decide up front how much time to allow yourself to burn on those time-wasting sites before it cuts you off cold.
If you’re not quite ready to let StayFocused dictate your web browsing, try RescueTime. It records where you click and how much time you spend there so that you can see the depressing results in all their graphed glory. If and when you decide to make some changes, it also includes the option to start blocking sites altogether.
It’s not your fault, checking email is literally addictive. While it’s a great advancement to be able to check email from virtually anywhere, it’s also a productivity killer, so set a max of how many times you’ll check to see if you’ve got mail. If your drug dealer is your smartphone, go in and set the email fetch frequency to manual to rob it of the “slot machine effect.”
The telltale sign of a serially distracted tech user is a computer screen jammed with dozens of viewing tabs, opened by rapid-fire clicking as his attention bounces from one thing to the next. Make it a rule to keep your open tabs to under five and you’ll find your attention is much less divided.
If you have an Android smartphone, one of the coolest apps you can get is Tasker. It’s a highly customizable scheduling app that can help you deal with distractions in the car (by auto-responding to texts with an “I’m driving” message) or the boardroom (by switching to silent mode).
Another way to further limit email distraction is to set up filters that shuttle certain emails past the inbox. If you’re like us, you get 20 Groupon and LivingSocial emails a day, and 95% of them you delete immediately. These will keep perfectly fine in a folder you create called “discount” until the end of the day when you can trash them.
Subscribe To Fewer Email Lists
Speaking of which, deal-of-the-day sites are so yesterday anyway. Do you really want a discount massage or dental X-ray? Go ahead and unsubscribe, chief; your inbox will thank you.
Use White Noise
If a loud work environment is distracting you, give a program like Chatter Blocker a try. It uses a combination of nature sounds and music to effectively mask background chitchat. Another option (for Macs only) is Noisy, which uses white and “pink” noise (like a waterfall) to accomplish the same thing. You can also use YouTube–this is one of our favorites.
Google and Facebook both have chat features that activate when you log into your account, unless you have them set to be signed off by default. As you’re easily distracted, that’s exactly how you’ll want to have them set. It’s bad enough you’re on Facebook in the first place; the last thing you need is to get sucked into a lengthy conversation with a friend.
Simplify Your Tools
Don’t use software with more features than you need. For example, if you’re writing a blog post, a cover letter, a term paper, or anything else, Microsoft Word seems designed to drain your time, whether by refusing to copy and paste the way you want, autocorrecting words you didn’t mistype, or bothering you with a talking paper clip (OK, so that one is old, but still). Either use Notepad or do yourself a real favor and…
Give OmmWriter Or Evernote A Try:
It wouldn’t be very helpful if we didn’t give you a tip on how to replace Word. For distraction-free writing, Ommwriter is great — it blocks out everything else but your text authoring screen. You may hate it at first, but you’ll thank it after you’ve used it to finally get that novel started.
The Pocket app (formerly known as Read It Later) is a great way to come back to distracting articles and videos on your devices when you have more time. Nicknamed “the DVR of the web,” it lets you save links straight from Twitter, Pulse, and elsewhere on all the most popular devices.
If your work or research involves any YouTube viewing, you know how easy it is to be enticed by the recommended videos or to read the colorful comments at the bottom. Quietube is a really cool app that hides all the junk so you can focus on just the video you came to watch.
One of the worst annoyances of using a PC is the update notifications that pop up. Choosing to install updates on the spot can be a ticket to lots of wasted time unpacking, installing, and rebooting. Instead, use the steps listed here to restrict updates to installing only when you shut down your computer. Your smartphone and wearables like Android and Apple Watches offer the same distractions. Mute them when working.
Know Your Time-Killers
If you know your favorite time-killing websites, you’ll be better able to monitor yourself. There are even apps and browser extensions that can keep you from checking certain sites during certain times if you can’t help yourself.
Consider Noise-Cancelling Headphones
According to the subtle unwritten rules of office politics, headphones are kosher, earplugs are not. Spending $200 on a pair might seem exorbitant, but compared with the money you’ll be out when you’re fired because you can’t get your work done because you’re always distracted in the office, it’s a downright steal. Don’t have $200? There far more affordable alternatives.
For dealing with niggling text messages, PC Worldrecommends moving the medium to something that works better for your schedule. If someone texts you, instead of immediately responding (and opening yourself up to more distracting messages), call them back during your next break or email them. Either way stretches the dialogue out and buys you more time to work.
Having a dual-monitor setup is supposed to be such a productivity booster, but at least one time management expert recommends ditching the second display. More screen real estate is just an invitation to open more windows and programs. Having just one forces you to focus.
Consolidate Your RSS Or Twitter Feed
When you do give in to distractions, streamlining the experience will at least cut down on the time you waste on them. Use Tweetdeck to make reading Twitter updates more efficient, and try Flipboard for turning your life into “your personal magazine.”
Texts from friends are distracting enough, but spam texts are just the worst, because you’re paying to have your time wasted. Consult with your carrier about options for blocking texts sent from computers, or install an app like iBlacklsit to take handle things yourself.
If you work in the same room as your giant flat-screen, the temptation to see what’s on ESPN or the Food Network will always be there, lurking. Streaming TV shows is easy but may give you the willpower to resist turning on the tube if you know what you want to watch will be there whenever you’re ready.
Checking the time on your desktop only takes about half a second in itself; the catch is in the aftermath. You start thinking about how late it is, what you still have left to do today, which affects tomorrow’s workload, and the next day, and the weekend. Save yourself all that thought-time and just hide the clock.
Telecommute If Possible
This one is a bit of a macro-tip, but if you have the option, try telecommuting. The technology is here to make many jobs doable from anywhere, so if the office is too distracting, work from home or the library and Skype or FaceTime in when necessary.
The chances you’ll give into distraction increase the longer you go without a break. Using an app like Time Out, you’ll get subtle reminders to get up, stretch your legs, and get a sweet dose of Facebook every 60-90 minutes.
If all else fails, flip the slider on your Wi-Fi to off or unplug the Ethernet cable, turn off your phone, lock the door, and close the window. If you’re still finding yourself distracted, it may be time to consider a lobotomy. 🙂
This is a cross-post from onlinecollege.org