Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Beat Social Media Distractions Without Cutting Off - Or "What's a tomato got to do with it?"

Image by: Digitalart
You probably know people who have sworn off Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest in order to get their life back on track, to stop 'wasting time' and achieve a few things - non digital activities usually.  I've even thought about it myself. A read of Susan Maushart's 'Waldeneske' Winter of Our Disconnect reminds us how reliant we have become on so many gadgets to keep connected to the people and world around us.

The distractions of social networking sites and the gadgets we connect through,  are at one extreme dangerous (see Blog Entry Don't Die While Communicating), and at the other extreme, simply a banal distraction from boredom. For many of us though the distractions can get in the way of getting some serious uniterrupted time to work. That old 'quality time' we all require sometimes.

Earlier this year Blooger Alexandra Samual wrote about "intention span" , the time between thinking "I must do xyz" and actually commencing it. She blogged about the impact of social media in expanding intention spans- that issue of not even getting started on important work becasue of the call of a social media distraction.

Then there is 'notification distraction'.  Pop up messages or sounds indicating new email, Facebook messages, a Skype contact or Tweets are a-beckoning your attention.  Not unlike the demands of an unanswered telephone, some people don't turn these off, even though they know they are unable to ignore them to get a work task completed first.

Add to this other internal distractions (coffee, snacks, bathroom breaks, desk cleaning and other 'essentials' that seem so demanding when you are on deadlines) and external distractions (any interruption from others - desired or otherwise) and it's a wonder we get anything completed some days.

Self discipline and motivation to continue on critical (and sometimes boring) tasks is a skill in itself. Total disconnection isn't required to get some semblance of order and lower your distractions though.  For many of us, our social media are part of our work, and can be as important as other tasks. Somehow working out how to work with the least interruptions, but still have some variety in our work, and balance in our activities is the key.

The Pomodoro Technique might just be the answer. I have had a few colleagues and students swear by it over the years, and I avoided it because it sounded almost cultish the way they were describing the technique with such passion. But having trialled it, I now understand the passion, and thought it was time to share.

The technique is as basic as having a ticking kitchen timer (yep - annoying at first, but motivating once you get hooked!), a blank piece of paper to pop notes on (or a app for notes and 'to do' lists), and 25 minutes.  Working in 25 minute lots, to meet set goals, and then being rewarded with a break at the end to do whatever you like (read - 'check that Facebook update from your girlfriend'), sounds a little too simple doesn't it? But like most simple things, the lessons run deeper. You learn more about your interruption patterns (internal and external) so you can do something about them; you learn what you can really achieve in 25 minutes (I have been totally ssurprised at my own outputs I might add); and you build your concentration.  But don't believe me ... try it for yourself. Oh and the reason I'm not thinking it's cultish anymore is that the resources and book on the Pomodoro Technique (and associated apps) are all free!

So if social media is distracting you from getting on with some great work - try a tomato technique at Pomodoro Tehcnique.
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