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Digital Distraction: Focus Like a Postage Stamp?

Blurryclock_white2Consider the postage stamp; its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing until it gets there. – Josh Billings

I LOVE this quote. Evidently, Josh Billings was like another Mark Twain back in the day.

How much "multi-tasking" are you doing during the day? What if you just stuck to one thing until it was done? It’s getting more and more difficult to do this in our modern times. Have you ever thought, "I’ll just look at this website really quickly first," or "Hmm, that’s interesting…I will click that," or "I wonder if I got that answer in my e-mail?" No? Well, excuse me, but your pants are currently on fire. Here are some suggestions for helping you to get back your focus:

  • My favorite way to stop the madness when I really must block out everything else is to flip the "kill switch" on my laptop… the one that shuts off wireless network access. Most newer notebook computers have this physical switch, and it means no Internet for you! If you have a desktop computer, you could unplug your network cable as well.
  • Location, location, location. There is something about going to work in a different place that makes you switch gears. If you choose a place with no internet access, that can be even better depending upon your needs. Even if you just move to a different room in your office or home, the change can help remind you that you are there for a reason and that you need to focus on that one thing. Many people enjoy focused work in conference rooms, vacant offices, library study rooms, Starbucks, or Panera.
  • Do an honesty check on how you really spend your time on your computer with "Rescue Time." (See previous post all about this application) This free application lets you monitor exactly where you are spending time, whether it’s in Outlook, on the web, or anywhere. You can set goals of how long you’d like to be in Outlook (for example) per day or per week, and you get a report on how you did. It really keeps you accountable!
  • Speaking of accountability, have an Accountability Partner. I have had one for years, and now we’ve added another person to our group. We talk each Monday morning about what we are going to accomplish and check in on last week’s goals. Sometimes we call each other during the week to get more help. Yesterday I got a call from one of them saying she was having a lot of trouble procrastinating a certain phone call. She wanted me to make her do it and have her call me back when she was done. It really works!
  • Emailalerts_2Turn off the Outlook visual and audible e-mail alerts. In Outlook 2003 & 2007, go to Tools>Options>Preferences tab>E-mail Options button>Advanced E-mail Options button>"When New Items Arrive in my Inbox." You have the option of turning off the desktop alerts, which means the little popup window in the bottom right of your screen. See this screenshot for all of the choices (click image to enlarge). You can also go into Tools>Rules & Alerts and create specific rules to have alerts only show up when certain people send you messages, in case you need to stay really responsive to someone like your manager.

What could you do today to improve your focus and get THAT ONE THING done?

Related post: What is Faffing?

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Jim Deitzel

Good post. I find it rather ironic that you talk about being distracted by the internet, messages, and so forth and here I am.
I arrived here because I said “I’m just going to look at the latest tweets real quick”. Then I ended up clicking your link.
So, I’m blaming you for this little distraction 🙂
I think I’m going to try out the Rescue Time application and see how it goes. Thanks for the update.


That’s a great quote. And a good concept.
I’ll try to use your tips because sometimes it’s good to stay focused, but really, aren’t we annoyed by the “postage stamp people”? We go to them for something we need, and they put us off because they’re working their regular assigned task-that’s probably due in 2 weeks-and they can’t stop even for a minute to do something that we need to complete our job?
And, when you have something really important, do you use a postage stamp? No, you use priority mail or Fed-Ex.
We only notice postage stamps when the price goes up.


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