Merge's Blog

How to manage distractions (aka the “Squirrel syndrome”)

If you want to be productive, to get things done, then you need to manage distractions.  And one of the biggest distractions that we all face – the Internet!  Which brings me to today’s strategy in our series on productivity tools for leaders: designate Internet-free times each day or week.

Avoid the “Squirrel syndrome” by designating Internet-free times

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet.  I mean where else can you look up the menu at a restaurant, watch cute cat videos, and unequivocally shut down bar arguments on stupid subjects.  Nowhere else but the Internet!

But once you get on the Net, it’s kind of like going down the rabbit hole. You look up one thing; you follow another link that looks interesting; you see a parallel topic that seems relevant; you get distracted by an advertisement for something you were just discussing this morning.  Before you know it, you whiled 20, 40, 60 minutes away, and you have no idea how it happened.  I fondly refer to this as the “squirrel syndrome”.  You go to the Internet for a legitimate reason, and then before you know it, you see a “squirrel”, and you’re off, chasing after it.

Desktop or handheld — it’s the same issue!

And let me be clear.  This isn’t just a desktop computer problem.  No, if you have a handheld device of any sort – a phone or a tablet – you are susceptible to the “squirrel syndrome”.  In fact, in my experience, a handheld device just makes it even more likely.

So the strategy for managing distractions of the Internet kind is to schedule Internet-free time each day, or if it makes more sense in your work life, each week.  Whether it’s a 30-minute block every morning, or a 2-hour block on Thursday afternoon, setting time aside to focus on high-outcome activities, and not allowing yourself get distracted by the Internet will significantly improve your productivity.  Close your email and shut down your Internet browsers.  You can continue to work on your desktop, but make sure you’re not connected to the worldwide web.  And fight the urge to go online for any reason, just keep telling yourself that you’ll be able to do so once your timed Internet-free window is over.

Now, I want you all to know that while this tip to manage distractions may sound Draconian, its positive impact will be huge!  I promise!  Now over to you – are you going to give it a try?  If you have already, I’d love to hear about your experiences.  Please share by adding a comment below.

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