Since I get various forms of this question emailed to me each week, I thought I’d share (with permission, of course)
Help! I want to be productive, but I keep getting distracted. I check my email and suddenly an hour’s passed and all I have to show for it is a million open browser tabs (with articles I’ll probably never read), screenshots of memes, and a half-written email. What can I do to stay focused and actually get shit done?
Cara, you're not alone.
The black hole of the Internet has sucked the life (and hours) out of all of us. While you can’t make the World Wide Web disappear, you can take a few precautionary steps to stop getting caught in it. Let’s break down your question:
1. Define Productivity
When you say you want to be “productive,” what does that really mean? Most people sit at their desk thinking “it's time to do work” without any real action plan for what they’ll get done. It’s easy to distract ourselves or avoid starting an unknown, undefined, or unwanted task. Simply put, No plan = No work.
2. Limit your Email
Checking email isn’t the same as working. Sure, it feels like work, but it doesn’t equate to productivity. The click-bait headlines tempting us to waste time/money is only half the battle. The bigger challenge is the false sense of direction our inbox provides. We see an unread message and think we need to take action, forcing us to sacrifice our priorities. Inadvertently, we address the urgent rather than the important. To combat this, only check your email after you’ve created your plan. Then, close/silence your email and adjust your plan only if absolutely necessary.
3. Shut it Down
Open tabs are distracting and overwhelming. Instead, bookmark them or copy the link to a document/virtual post it. Then, close down all tabs you aren't ACTIVELY using.
4. Live a Little
Memes are hilarious and oddly empathetic to the human experience. Make time for breaks. You’re a human, not a robot.
5. Break it Up
One of the many reasons we feel overwhelmed is because we add things to our To-Do list rather than taking immediate action. This was a major pitfall for me until I began using the 2-minute rule: If a task (or email, in your case) takes less than 2 minutes, don’t push it off. Act now! If it takes longer or feels intimidating, break it down into bite-sized, actionable items. Not only will it be easier to start tasks and take consistent action, you’ll feel less stressed and more motivated.
If you spend more time on distractions than you do on work, check out these psychology-backed tweaks to jumpstart your focus and productivity.
(I post this cheat sheet above my desk…just in case!)