How many times has this happened to you: You get to the end of the workday and look back to see what you accomplished. You realize that it is hard to pinpoint what you did, though you spent a lot of time at your desk.
When you start to break it down, you realize that you checked your Twitter feed several times and found some interesting articles people posted. You spent some time catching up on Facebook, and then looked at what was happening on LinkedIn. You only checked Instagram once, but there were a few neat pictures. And, of course, your email interrupted you about every 20 minutes with a few new items to check.
That means you may have spent about 25 minutes of every hour checking what the internet was bringing you. Worse yet, because that time broke up your work time in irregular ways, it took a long time for you to complete the big things you were supposed to be working on.
If this describes at least some of your days, then you ought to think about ways to break the habit to check your social media and to spend more time actually getting things done. Here are three things you can do to get started.
Know Yourself: What time of day do you work best? When I ask this question to groups, about half of the people I ask say they work best when the first get to work in the morning. Yet, most of those same people admit that the first thing they do when they get to work is to check their email and their social media feeds.
That means that you are probably wasting some of your best work time slogging through a mountain of email that has built up and looking through social media updates. You can’t be productive consistently if you waste your best time.
To change your routine, grab a timer and set it for 10 minutes when you get to work. Now, you have 10 minutes to triage your email. Chances are, of the 50 new things in your in-box, only 3 of them demand immediate attention. Answer those and move on. The rest of them will wait.
Remember that just 25 years ago, when people wrote something to you, they sent it by mail, and wouldn’t expect to hear back from you for a week. People weren’t much less productive in that era. So, everything in your in-box will certainly wait a few hours until you have gotten some work done.
Create technology-free periods: It is easy to say that you are going to stop checking social media, but it is hard to do, because you have created habits to do it. Your eyes scan the tabs on your browser automatically to see whether the number of twitter updates has gone up, or whether there are notifications that need to be checked on Facebook.
If you are going to be productive, you have to protect yourself from yourself. When you sit down to get something important completed, shut off your browser (or if you can’t do that, at least close the tabs for all of your social media). Turn off the IM program on the computer. Shut off your Smart Phone if you have to.
Your habits reflect the actions you associate with your environment. If you don’t create an oasis to get things done, then you are just going to keep doing the same things you have done in the past and then looking back wistfully over your day when you realize that you haven’t finished anything.
Relish the Quiet: Part of the reason that social media are so persistent is that they want to remind you that you need to check them again. If you keep your Facebook window open, it dings every time someone sends you a message or leaves you a comment. You IM program and email may also have a tone that goes with them. And your Smart Phone is happy to tell you “You’ve got a text!”
Once you know there is a message waiting for you, it is nearly impossible to ignore it. Even if you try to force yourself to focus on the task at hand, your mind is drawn to the unknown message.
It turns out that ignorance is bliss. Turn off the sounds in your world. If you are not being told that you have new messages, then you have a chance to get a few uninterrupted minutes of work done before you are tempted to plug yourself back into a social network.
Art Markman, Ph.D, has written over 150 scholarly papers on topics including reasoning, decision making, and motivation. On July 7, he comes to CreativeLive to teach you how to make habits — and change your life. RSVP to his class here.