Working in a World of Distractions

Do you remember when Starbucks didn’t have free Wi-Fi?  It was only about three years ago.

I’m not talking about Barnes & Noble Starbucks or Target Starbucks.  I’m talking standalone Starbucks.  They had some set up with AT&T that required you to pay or already be a member.  I’m not sure how it worked because I never used it.

It seemed ridiculous that Wi-Fi wasn’t free.  Even McDonald’s had free Wi-Fi.  But throughout my entire college career, Starbucks and its little sea goddess held strong.

starbucks lady frown

Which meant that if you had homework to do that required an internet connection, you went to Caribou Coffee (or pretty much any other coffee shop) to do it.  Actually, even if you had a textbook to read, you went elsewhere so you could take internet breaks between reading.

But There was a Silver Lining to This

I discovered a distinct advantage to Starbucks lack of connectivity.  It removed a significant amount of distractions.  This was, after all, before I had a smartphone.

By sitting down on my computer and putting headphones in, I was cut off from everything except the task at hand.  At the time, I was working on my 60 page senior project, a fictional story that required no research.

All I needed to do was write.

I would lock myself into a Starbucks for three or more hours, not allowing myself to leave until I had reached a certain point of progress.  It was incredible.  I attained a level of productivity I have struggled to reach since.

Because times have changed…

Starbucks now has free Wi-Fi.

I have a smartphone that is always connected.

I work a job that can’t be done without the internet.

And as great as the internet is, there is no greater detractor to productivity in this day and age.  In other words…

I Work in a Box of Distractions

This isn’t unique to me.  Essentially anyone who works in an office or from a computer these days faces the same problem.  The internet is always there, trying to woo us away from the task at hand.  We try our best to resist.

But it’s like going to an amusement park and not letting yourself go on any rides.

Or at least that’s what it feels like.  Even when you’re on the internet just to get work done, sidebars and footers are filled with links to websites that sound really interesting but have nothing to do with your job.

Ads pop up with the latest movie trailers embedded in them.

Your phone notifies you that someone just wrote on your Facebook wall or retweeted you or liked your Instagram.

glass case of emotions (distractions)

Suddenly you’ve been engulfed by the digital world and have completely forgotten what you were working on in the first place.  This is the daily battle that many of us face.  the temptation is even greater on days you don’t feel well or the day before vacation or pretty much every Friday.

And you can’t just unplug.  You can’t put yourself in a room with no external connections.

After all, you need the internet.  You need your phone.  Some of us would like to pretend we don’t, but as far as our job is concerned, we do.  So what options are there?  How do you stay on task when you work amongst distractions?

Well, the first step is simple…but it’s always easier said than done.

You Choose to Stay on Task

No one is making you check your Facebook or read some funny article.  You are making a conscious decision to go there.  Life in itself is filled with distractions.  Usually, the successful people are the ones who choose to ignore them.

You have to decide to get work done.  You have to want it.  Which means…

You Have to Get Excited About Your Work

Crazy thought, right?  But, if you’re more excited about the latest thing Justin Beiber tweeted than you are about your own job, you’re probably not going to get much done at the office.  A little passion goes a long way in the work place.

When I write for work, I’m excited about the idea of people reading the things I’ve written.  The fact that they type a handful of words into Google and it brings up an article I wrote is crazy.

Find something to drive you through each work day.

Save it For Later

Your Facebook notifications will be there when you’re done with work.  If you find a YouTube video you want to watch, there’s this lovely little button called “Watch Later” that you can click so you can, well, watch it later.

I have a bookmark folder in my web browser called “For Laters”.  When I find something I want to read, but don’t have time for, I put it in there.  Once I get around to reading it, I remove it.

It’s that easy.

When it comes to distractions, sometimes you have to be smarter than yourself.  For a lot of us, our work hours are precious.  There’s always something that we could or should be doing.  Save the personal stuff for your personal time.

Doing so will ultimately make your work time more productive and leave you with more free time in the long run.

And who doesn’t want that?

(If you agree or at least found this to be a nice little distraction, please share!)

Written by Timothy Snyder
on February 11, 2013