How to stay focused and on task (without deleting Facebook)

The Facebook group “Addicted to Facebook” is just shy of 2000 members (1999 members at the time of writing this post). One Facebook addict, Jackie, shares “Wow I can honestly say I’m addicted to facebook. so bad that I need professional help”. Whilst another member states “I think its funny that I get accused of being addicted to Facebook by people who must be on here as much as me to being accusing me of being addicted to Facebook”.

To join such a group indicates that these people have hit rock bottom. They are desperate. But just like any recovering addict, at least these people have taken the first step by acknowledging that they have a problem.

I have a sneaking suspicion that they are not alone and there are many other Facebook users who would easily qualify for such a group but wouldn’t be willing to expose this by pressing the ‘Like’ button.

Afterall, who wants to be viewed as a Facebook Junky who prefers to spend more time in virtual worlds than out in the real one?

After being disturbed by the voyeurism Facebook imposes and his strange obsession for following the profiles of people he didn’t know very well, a fellow blogger recently took the plunge and deleted his Facebook account. He shared –

“While there’s the appearance of connectedness and networking in the Facebook environment, I perceived a huge gap between the real world me and the real world friend with whom I was suppose to be interacting….It [Facebook] is a communication strategy that is neither satisfying nor effective and which is, to my mind, not particularly healthy”.

Whilst I admire this man’s decision to delete his Facebook account in pursuit of more meaningful connections, I still can’t bring myself to delete my profile. I like Facebook too much.

So if you’re like me and you don’t want to give Facebook the boot just yet but you find yourself getting easily distracted by it and you’re keen to reduce your time on there, then keep reading.

Below I discuss a number of strategies that can help you eliminate distracting sites such as Facebook when you need to and develop single minded focus so you can be truly productive and effective when you work.

I have broken down the strategies into four main sections: 1) Training your mind to focus, 2) Preparing your mind and environment for work, 3) Kicking your Facebook habit and 4) Ways to sustain your ability to focus throughout the day.

1) Training your mind to Focus

Meditation appears to be a great way of training your brain to focus on one task at a time. Neuroscientist Dr Lazer and her team MRI scanned the brains of a group of non-religious Westerners who meditated regularly and a group of people who had no previous experience with meditation. What they discovered is that there was increased development in the regions of the meditators’ brains associated with sensory processing and attention than in the non-meditators brains.

Whilst meditation isn’t rocket science, it does take a little practice and patience. If you’re new to meditation or just getting back into it after a long break, find a quiet place to sit and focus on your breath for just 3 – 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can start by focusing on an instrument in a piece of music (Note: Avoid heavy metal or techno music). When you feel ready, increase the amount of time you meditate for.

Another way of training your mind to focus is to use a Distraction card. All you need to do is take a palm card and every time your mind starts to wonder or you succumb to checking your email or Facebook, tick the card and then return to your task. This is a simply way to help you gain greater awareness of just how distracted you are and can also provide useful baseline data.

It may also help to write down any distracting thoughts and revisit them at a later time in the day. Some people even keep Worry notebooks. Basically, whenever they start to worry about something that is unrelated to the task at hand, they jot down the thought and tell themselves they’ll deal with that at 5:30pm or whatever time works for them.

Let me just emphasise that all of the strategies listed above take practice. You can’t expect to have the focus of a longtime Buddhist practitioner of meditation after one meditation session! But after a few days of practice, you will start to see a difference in the way you work.


2) Preparing your mind and environment for work

If my desk is covered in dirty dishes, books and papers and the television is turned on, it’s highly likely I’m going to be distracted and feel agitated whilst I work. This feeling of discomfort is likely to eventuate in me logging into Facebook, Youtube, etc.

On the other hand, the simple act of cleaning my desk and emptying my intray sends a strong signal to my brain: it’s time to get some serious work done.

Stella Cottrell in her book “The Study Skills Handbook” asks us to consider the following –

What kind of study environment suits you best for different stages of the study process? Make a conscious note of what it is that enables you to begin to study: is there quiet or music or background noise? Do you need to be at home or in a library or with friends? Do you need a clear table? What else is needed?

At the beginning of your study session, set clear time limits for how long you are going to work on a particular task for. It also helps to be clear on what you want to work on and accomplish during that time.

3) Kicking your Facebook habit

You may be mentally prepared and your optimal work conditions may be in place (e.g. clean desk, study plan, right equipment) but none of this will make much of a difference if logging into Facebook every 30 minutes has become an ingrained habit.

Similar to a smoker who goes cold turkey, you need to rid Facebook from your system when it comes time to work.

You have a few options in regards to how you go about doing this. I recommend that you either go to a location that doesn”t have Internet access (e.g. a local library or cafe) or download a program that will lock you out of Facebook for several hours during the day (e.g. Freedom, Ez Internet Timer and Times Up Kidz). The programmers of Times Up Kidz offer a 30 day free trial which may be all you need to break your habit of checking Facebook regularly throughout the day.

4) Sustainable focus

If you’ve been working on something for an extended period of time (1 hour plus), your ability to focus and concentrate can significantly diminish. To sustain your focus, make sure you give yourself regular breaks.

Avoid the energy drinks (you know they’ll just make you feel terrible) and drink plenty of water to help you to stay fresh, focused and alert.

If you’ve got any strategies for enhancing focus and concentration, I’d love to hear about them!

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