Focus in the Internet Age

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Be honest: have you ever surfed the web when you were supposed to be working?

Yes, you have. You know you have.

We’ve all done it.

The internet can be great: it contains a lot of interesting and entertaining stuff. And it helps connect us with a lot of people.

But that is a blessing and a curse. It’s good to be interested, entertained, and connected. Except when you shouldn’t be.

The internet makes it too easy to mentally leave work. You can be in the workplace, at your work station, looking at your work computer . . . and surfing sports sites or travel sites or Facebook or YouTube or whatever. You’re at work, but your brain isn’t. It’s out on the internet.

It’s not always easy to stay focused on the task at hand. Particularly if the task is boring, hard, or time-consuming. You know what I’m talking about.

Here is a technique that works for me and helps me stay focused. It keeps me off the internet and on track with my work. Maybe it will work for you, too…

1. Close all tabs on your internet browser.

Some people keep a lot of windows or tabs open to visit later. It’s a bad idea — don’t do it. A bunch of tabs can be enticing and distracting. Close them.productivity

(If you want to save sites to visit later, that’s okay. Bookmark them before closing. I recommend Google Bookmarks, which are easy to use and are not stored on your computer. They are out there “on the cloud” — and therefore they don’t clutter up your browser, while still being easy to access.)

If you are using the internet for work, fine and good. You are allowed to have that window open, obviously.

Don’t quit your internet browser altogether, though. We need it for the next step.

2. Go to the online timer at e.ggtimer.com. Set it for fifteen minutes and start it up.

(E.ggtimer.com is completely free of charge. It is not annoying.)

The e.ggtimer fills the browser and shows how much time is left. It beeps and blinks when it’s done.

For fifteen minutes, you are not allowed to do anything but work. No internet, no smartphone. No emails, no texts, no calls — no distractions.

Your phone should switched to vibrate or some other unobtrusive setting. Its screen should be off and out of view. (One setting that might work well for your smartphone is called “stuffed into a desk drawer.”) It is time to work.

3. Handle distractions that pop up

Obviously if there is a fire or other emergency, you’ll need to deal with it. All other distractions should be handled — not acted on, but handled.

If you think of something you want to Google, write it down on a piece of paper. If there is someone you want to email or call, write it down. When you’re done accomplishing the task at hand, you’ll have a list ready to go. Don’t waste any brainpower keeping track of what you want to do after the work is done — just write it all down.two-guys-on-roof

If without thinking, you find yourself turning to the internet and going to a website, you will see the e.ggtimer full screen. It will remind you that you have committed yourself to doing more productive things for a period of time. It will serve to remind you to get back to work.

4. When the timer rings

You’re done. You just went fifteen minutes with no internet and no phone! Congratulations.

So what now? You can choose to take a break and go back to the internet. A better idea, though, may be to set the timer for 15 minutes again. Re-commit yourself and get more done!

5. What have you accomplished?

I like to keep a Microsoft Word document where I write down the date and what I got accomplished on that day.

I almost never go back and review this document, but I will tell you: days that I have a lot of accomplishments to type in feel really good.

I make myself record days that don’t contain many accomplishments — and those feel a whole lot worse.

Writing down my accomplishments each day inspires me to go and do more with the time I’ve got!

Of course, you’ve got to have some willpower for this to work. And that’s on you. No internet article is going to give you that.

So try these simple steps. Use the internet (the timer) to help you avoid wasting time on the internet.

Let us know what you think about this technique — and let us know what you got done!

Thanks to bark for the photo of wasting time with the iPad game, the Centre for Alternative Technology for the two guys on the roof, and Sean MacEntee for the green productivity sign. Thanks all.

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