Avoiding Distractions in a Techcentric World

Small Business Tips to Stay Focused

Ever have one of those mornings at work where 10 o’clock rolls around and you wonder what you’ve been doing for the past two hours? Between “catching up” on your friends’ Facebook posts and maintaining the little farm game you downloaded to your phone, tech distractions abound and they can make it extremely difficult to concentrate.

An ongoing study by a New York-based research company, Basex, found that these interruptions, and the time it takes to get your focus back, can eat up as much as 28 percent of your workday if you’re not careful. Here’s how to resist the allure of your beeping, flashing tech distractions.

Good old-fashioned willpower? Perhaps. Try limiting your Facebook browsing or Words With Friends playing to certain times during the day. Treat it like a break from work instead of interrupting the task at hand. When you do “take five,” consider setting a timer so you stop when you mean to. It’s too easy to get embroiled with surfing and find that you’ve burned away thirty minutes before you know it. When you find yourself reaching for your phone at the wrong time, resist the urge. Positive reinforcement will eventually help you develop good habits.

Tip: if you surf the internet for research as I do, don’t set your favorite news website as your home page. If you do, close it the minute it opens so you’re not sucked in by the latest headlines.

Turn off the automatic pop-ups that signal an incoming IM or email. Same goes for the text message jingle on your phone. Nothing is so important it can’t wait 15 minutes – I mean seriously, what if you went to the bathroom or something? This way, you check your email or respond to instant messages on your own time when you experience a natural lull in your work rather than breaking your concentration. Try to establish a routine where you spend a certain amount of time working, then a certain amount of time responding to messages, so you don’t forget to get back to people in a timely manner.

Set an auto-reply on your voicemail or email to waylay your chatty roommate from engaging you in her latest boyfriend troubles. Let her know (politely, of course) that you’re working on an important project deadline and will get back to her as soon as you can. Social media like Facebook and Twitter can be restricted so you only receive “important updates.” This way, you’re not distracted by a piano-playing cat video when you should be working.

Since your tech got you into this mess, use it to get you out. Google Chrome’s StayFocusd application is highly-configurable and designed to increase your productivity by limiting the time you spend on certain websites throughout the day or selectively block web pages. There’s even a Nuclear Option, allowing you to block the entire web (gasp!). You’ll need to use Chrome as your primary browser.

Firefox users can check out LeechBlock. Specify up to six sets of sites to block with different times and day configurations for each set. Block them for a certain time period (for example, from 9 to 5), after an amount of time (say 30 minutes total), or a combination thereof. There’s even a password feature that makes it more difficult to bypass the blocking, slowing you down in your moment of weakness.

Not sure if you have a distraction problem? Take the RescueTime test: a fully-automated, time tracking tool that measures the amount of time a website or document is active. Inactive tabs are not tracked and it stops recording when your computer goes idle. You can manually enter your offline time (in a meeting, at lunch, etc.), or tell it to bug off. After the data is collected, it presents you with reports charting your activities. You can even see what days of the week or times of the day are the most productive so you can modify your schedule to take advantage of your shining hours.