What to Do When Your Productivity Tools Are Your Biggest Distractions: A Two Step Plan

Sometimes my productivity tools get me into trouble.

My computer is a vital productivity tool, and it’s a huge blessing–especially with its internet capabilities.

But my computer is also one of my biggest distractions.  I’m not alone:  the internet’s distractability potential is high for anyone who does work at the computer–whether you’re in an office, at home, blogging (or reading blogs).

Keeping these distractions in check requires an enormous amount of self-discipline–or smart systems.

I get the most work done on my computer with a disciplined use of good systems.  But when I get off track, my systems fall apart, and so does my self-control–and this is the disastrous combo that has you catching up with long-lost friends on facebook when you ought to be working.

Can you relate?  If you find that your computer has become a distraction, and not a productivity tool, it’s time to borrow a trick from the IT handbook and turn the thing off.  There’s no problem with your hardware; your problem is with its propensity to distract you.  To troubleshoot that problem, follow these steps:  Unplug it.  Wait.  Then fire it back up.

Step 1:  Unplug.

When I’m at home but not on the clock, I have to fight the tendency to check my email every time I walk by the computer.  And when I’m working at the computer and I’m having a hard time getting started, I tend to start working on “tasks” that need to be done, eventually, but are low priority compared to what I’m working on at the moment.

I was on vacation with my family last week and my computer time was minimal.  I was on a different schedule, and my expectations of what I wanted to accomplish for the week were low.  The dramatic cutback in the amount of time I spent working online last week gave me the distance I needed to evaluate my habits.  I could see more clearly which habits were helping me get my work done–and which ones weren’t.

If you’re unhappy with your online work habits, you need to give yourself a break. Unplug, and wait.   Take a day (or a week) off-line.  (For inspiration, check out Jen’s great post about what she learned in a week without the internet.)  If this is a workplace issue for you, tackle your bad habits on a Monday morning after you’ve spent the weekend out of the office.

Step 2:  Plug back in.

After a break, start your system back up.  Here’s how:

1.  Be mindful. Ask yourself which habits you want to break.  Do you procrastinate by checking email?  Do you head over to facebook when you get stuck?  You have to identify your trouble spots.

2.  Be focused. It’s crucial that when you head back to the computer, you establish positive behavior from the get-go.  This is the best time to start forming positive habits.  Take advantage of it.

3. Be intentional. You’ve heard this advice before because it works.  If you love spending time on Pinterest or Facebook but it easily turns into a time-sucker, use a tool like thetinytimer to monitor your time so you can enjoy it guilt-free. Enjoy a break (because we’re more productive with breaks).  Then get back to work when the timer goes off!

4.  Be honest with yourself. We tend to underestimate the time we spend goofing off on online.  But if you’re aiming for better time management, you have to own up to how you’re currently managing your time.

5.  Make it harder to go astray. Try using a tool like RescueTime, which boasts that the average user saves nearly 4 hours per week by using it.  RescueTime is a free app that tracks how you spend your time online, and if you choose, RescueTime can block you from visiting sites that you deem to be “highly distracting” for a period of time that you specify.

6.  Keep a paper notebook handy.  Because it’s so easy to accomplish little tasks online–paying the water bill, renewing the library books–it’s tempting to stop whatever we’re doing so we can scratch one more thing off our list.  Don’t. Keep a paper notebook handy so you can capture whatever brilliant thoughts you have while you’re working on the computer.  That way, you can keep working–and tend to the list later.

7.  Repeat as necessary. Every computer needs to be rebooted every now and again to stay at top performance.  So do you.

What do you do to keep your online distractions in check?

photo credit: Nicolas Raymond

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  1. Ashley says:

    This is great advice. I get into trouble when I sit down at the computer without a clear idea of what I want to accomplish. But if I sit down to work online with a to-do list it’s much harder for me to waste time by going off-track.

    I’m going to check out rescuetime. I may need a reality check 🙂

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