It shouldn’t take a survey to convince you that most of us spend a shamefully large amount time at work fooling around on the Internet. You probably know firsthand how distracting the web and its social accoutrements can be. You may be reading this when you really should be working right now.
This is partly because our employers have given up trying to police how we use the Internet. Your boss may not be thrilled to see you’ve updated your Facebook status three times in the past two hours. But as long as you’re hitting deadlines and meeting expectations, he’s probably not going to give you too hard a time about it.
If you’re perfectly happy doing just enough work to get by between Tweetdeck- and Facebook-skimming sessions, this article isn’t for you. But if you are haunted by the feeling that your Internet habit is keeping you from reaching your potential in terms of both work quality and quantity, then keep reading.
Before I continue, I should note that the Internet is a great thing. Few of us old enough to remember a time before its arrival would want to return to those dark ages. But in a hyper-connected world, we are all at a higher risk for hyper-distraction. And despite what some have argued, the problem isn’t the Internet. It’s us.
I should know. I’m a recovering distractoholic.
I’ve seen the dark underbelly of Internet-fueled distraction. I’m intimately acquainted with the sinister allure of the hyperlink. I know the shame of waking up in some dank, dark corner of Wikipedia, unsure of how I even got there. I’ve looked the temptation of around-the-clock, lightning-fast Internet access straight in the eye, and I have crumpled like so much craft paper.
The problem for me, and maybe for you, too, is that my work requires my to be in the presence of the web and its charms constantly. Every minute, I’m fending off seductive pleas of “use me” from Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Gmail, and Google+ (just kidding! If you are addicted to Google+, stop reading and get help).
Even when I manage to keep temptation at bay, what I really want to do is just rip that T1 cable out of the wall and mainline it, right at my desk. But I don’t, because I have important work to do.
So I work. And pretty soon, I find a groove. And then, without realizing it’s even happening, I start to experience a high–the kind of high Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk can never deliver.
The clinical name for this high is “flow.” The brainchild of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a mental state that occurs when we are wholly immersed in our work–so much so that everything around us, including time itself, seems to cease to exist. The feelings associated with flow–delight, joy, satisfaction–are diametrically opposed to those associated wit distraction: shame, guilt, ennui.
Flow feels good. And it’s kryptonite to Internet-induced distraction.
But achieving flow takes time and effort. Distraction, on the other hand, is free and easy. And every time we check our Twitter client, our Facebook feed, or our email account, we’re opening the door for distraction and diminishing our chances for flow.
That’s why if you’re a recovering distractaholic like me, you have no choice–you must systematically eliminate distraction’s charms.
Here are a few tips on how to do it. Some I’ve tried; others that I haven’t deigned to do yet. Hopefully they will serve you well in your efforts to overcome distraction addiction and achieve the kind of creativity- and productivity-enhancing flow that feels so good once you finally find it.
1. Turn off the Net. There are a several tools designed to temporarily disable you from interacting with the web. The one I’ve used is the aptly named Freedom. Apple users will also want to take a look at the Mac-only application (and equally aptly named) SelfControl.
2. Police yourself. Instead of using the Internet willy-nilly throughout the day, keep tabs on yourself. You can either do it manually, or use an app like TrackTime, which keeps track your online activity. It also lets you retrospectively assign billable hours based on app usage, web history, and even iTunes history, so you can see what music facilitates flow for you.
3. Kill the power on your phone. Did you know iPhones have an “off” switch?
4. Get out of your office. Not all distractions are bad, particularly the ambient noise of coffee shops and other crowded places. According to a recent study, moderate external distractions can enhance creativity by prompting abstract thinking.
5. Quit Facebook. It can be done, and here’s a way to do it without technically quitting and losing all of your Facebook-only connections.
I personally haven’t made it to step five. I’m just not that far in my recovery yet. But I do know this: a creative professional who will willingly quit Facebook is an empowered professional — and almost certainly a more productive one.