Unplug to Overcome Distraction

Empty ethernet jack

In earlier posts I’ve talked about ways to avoid interruptions and distractions caused by coworkers, but when it comes right down to it, sometimes there’s no one to blame for your inattention but yourself. That is, unless we start personifying the internet.

How often do you wake up after a half hour (at least) of relatively mindless web surfing when what you started out to do should have taken 30 seconds? Quick fact checks on the internet easily evolve into full-scale rabbit-hole adventures that suck time away from the work you should be doing. The time-sucking vortex of the internet can catch even the most aware and conscientious individuals. Surely that link leads to new, useful information that keeps you up to date. Surely it does, even if it also keeps you from using the information you already have.

Sometimes the internet vortex evolves into such a problem that a vortex-afflicted individual can’t actually get anything done. In such an instance, it’s time for a serious reboot. With just a few steps, those who are seriously struggling with internet distraction, as well as those who want to take preventative measures, can take control of their internet use.

1. Write down everything you have to do that doesn’t revolve around the internet.

Start by building a list of your tasks that aren’t primarily internet-centered. For example, checking and responding to email is an internet-centered task, but writing a proposal is not. I may, on occasion, need to look something up on the internet for a proposal, but writing is still not internet-centered.

2. Group your non-internet tasks together in packets that makes sense to you.

Parceling out your non-internet tasks into packets will make it easy for you to tackle a bundle of them all at once. For example, I could outline my proposal, draft it, and do a quick revision to remove any obvious idiocy in one sitting. Then I can put a final revision in the same task packet as editing a press release and some website content—this keeps all my editing tasks in the same packet.

3. Unplug the internet.

Now that you have packets of non-internet tasks, you can pick a time of day to completely unplug from the internet and handle those packets. Unplugging may mean taking the ethernet cable out of your computer, turning off your laptop’s wireless capability, or logging your mobile device off the wi-fi. Whatever it means, just make it so you can access the internet easily.

4. Pick a packet and tackle it.

After you’re unplugged, you can start chipping away at one of the packets of tasks you created before. Work through the entire packet before you turn the internet back on. While you’re working, you may run into things you need the internet for (e.g. I may need to fact-check something for my proposal). But instead of plugging back in, start an internet to-do list. Your packet may generate several internet-centered items: emails to send, facts to check, information to unbury.

5. Use your list to focus.

Once you’ve finished your first non-internet packet of tasks, reconnect to the internet and address all the internet-centered tasks that came up while you were working. Now that you have a set of things you need to check, you’ll have more direction to your internet use. You’ll write one email, check one fact, and then you can move on in your work.

6. Pick a new packet and tackle it.

Keep cycling through your packets of non-internet tasks, unplugging from the internet for each one, until you’ve accomplished everything you set out to do.

Regimenting your internet use can give you practice in avoiding the its time-sucking vortex. With enough practice, you may be able to move past the packets and physically unplugging and still keep your productivity running in spite of internet rabbit holes. Until then, pick a packet and tackle it—without the World Wide Web.

Image bypiyaphantawong via FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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