Q: I love reading blogs and using social networks, but I also need to do work on my computer and I just can’t stay productive! Do you have any tips for avoiding distractions?
With distractions of all types just a single click away, completing tasks online in a timely manner can sometimes seem impossible today. Many people would be the first to tell you that they’re “procrastinating on Facebook” or surfing the web aimlessly, but they might not realize how much time this takes up over the long run and what they might have accomplished otherwise.
Also, since an overwhelming percentage of jobs today involve computer and internet use, learning how to stay productive in a social web full of friends, fun and shiny objects is a vital skill in this day and age. This article will outline a few ideas for how to do it.
Write down a to-do list of tasks to accomplish
A key step to staying productive is to articulate exactly what tasks you need to do and go through the list sequentially. If you don’t, it’s much easier to get sidetracked and then try to justify your actions afterward. (Yeah, I spent an hour and a half reading blogs but it was all research for my new post.)
Some people like to make a daily list while others prefer to separate it out by project and order tasks by priority. This way, they avoid the negative feeling when a daily list doesn’t get completely checked off, which is often inevitable.
Stop checking email so often
This can often be a major issue because we receive important work messages through email. But does that really justify heading to our inboxes every 5 minutes? And how many times have you started by responding to a message but then proceeding to read additional emails that don’t need immediate attention?
Once you get in the habit, checking email can be an obsession. Depending on your job, you might be need to be available for immediate reply at all times, but in the majority of situations, those emails aren’t quite as urgent as they might seem. And if you’re a Gmail user, Gchat is sitting right there in your inbox, with the potential for even more distraction if you remain available.
When reading something for work purposes, avoid clicking on new stories
In many cases, we have to surf the internet to read articles for work purposes. But sticking to that one story can be extremely difficult, as all major websites are optimized to encourage clicking on additional pages and staying on the site as long as possible.
Keep your focus on the story in the center, not the sidebar featuring “top stories” or articles that your Facebook friends have shared. If you do notice something that you really want to read, you can use a browser add-on such as Read it Later or Delicious to quickly mark it for future access.
Designate a period of time for personal surfing and social networks
Most of us enjoy perusing social networks and chatting with our friends, but this should be separated from work-related tasks. Rewarding yourself with some Facebook or blog reading time is fine after checking a few things off your to-do list, but keeping an eye on the clock is always a good idea.
Consider disconnecting from the internet entirely when doing something important.
A final idea is to actually pull the plug and disconnect from your network when you’re in the middle of an important task. This is something I’ve resorted to on a few occasions when I kept finding myself heading back to the web for “research” or to see if that important email had arrived. When writing a big article, for example, I’d pull up any resources I needed beforehand, so I didn’t need to be online to access them.
Hopefully this post gives you some ideas for staying productive on the social web. If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Andrew Walsh is the owner and editor of Social Web Q and A. He is a freelance writer, academic librarian and web entrepreneur. Check out his book Savvy for the Social Web.