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How to Cut Back on Distractions
Is Internet use affecting your productivity?

When you work in the time management and productivity field, you often notice something interesting: that today's computers are built to handle the software you need to do your work, but not necessarily set up in a way that allows for maximum productivity and efficiency. To understand what I mean, simply sit at someone's desk for a few minutes. You will probably be interrupted by at least half a dozen beeps, pings, and visual notifications.

In other words, our computers are as good at causing distractions as they are helping us to get things finished.

One reason is that there is always something clamoring for our attention. Whether it is a new e-mail, Facebook update, or a tweet from your favorite celebrity, something shinier and more interesting than the report or spreadsheet you are working on is never far away. It might not seem like a big deal to let your focus drift for a moment, but these distractions can quickly add up. In studies, researchers have shown that it may take up to five minutes after a distraction to get back to what you are doing, and as long as 20 to 30 minutes to fully regain your concentration.

This represents an ongoing problem for anyone who goes online, and indeed you can find ongoing tips for blending time with technology on time management blogs like mine. A handful of companies are taking things further, however, and developing solutions to protect us from ourselves and our own habits.

One of these, recently highlighted in the Wall Street Journal, is a piece of software called "Freedom," which simply cuts off your computers networking and Internet connectivity for a period of up to eight hours. In some ways, you could think of it as the "cold turkey" approach to computer distractions.

Whether you love the idea of trying something like that, or it fills you with dread, you might consider going without the Internet at work for a few days (or at least a few hours a day) if possible. Whether you end up keeping the habit or not, you will learn a couple important computer productivity tips firsthand:

Most of us go online more than we think we do. You may feel like you only check your social profiles a few times a day, but as the saying goes "you do not know what you have until it is gone." It is not until you stop going online every few minutes that you realize how much it is a regular part of your work day… and what you might be able to accomplish by changing your habits.

Having the materials you need for a project on hand before you start saves you a lot of time. Some of the worst Internet time-wasting actually occurs when we are working. That is because going online to check little facts, statistics, and details almost always ends up taking us in a different direction. Besides, the more information you have on hand before you work on a sales proposal, report, or other project, the easier time you will have organizing information quickly.

Once you learn to focus, you can get a lot done. As always, the true benefit comes not just with the time saved, but with the increase in productivity that you are able to get from your working hours. Concentrating on the task at hand is the ultimate piece of time management advice, and it is one that gets a lot easier to follow when you are not constantly getting interruptions from your e-mail and the Internet.

Most of us go online often enough while we are working that it has become second nature. Try setting yourself free from the Internet on a regular schedule – it might turn out being a lot less painful, and a lot more energizing, than you would think.


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