We’ve all been there- you sit down to do some work at your computer and you get distracted.
If you’re like me, it goes something like this:
- I’ll just check Twitter real quick...
- ... and follow a link from a sports writer to a story online...
- ... which makes me think that maybe there are related stories so I turn to Google for a quick search...
- ...which then takes me down the rabbit trail of three other articles related to the same topic.
Can you relate?
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The rabbit trail is a dangerous thing. It's seductive really. The rabbit trail taps into our desire for quick, dopamine-inducing searches and internet expeditions. The rabbit trail affects us all, whether we are aware of it or not. If you have an internet connection, you've experienced this. If you use social media, you've experienced this. If you have a smartphone, you know what I'm talking about.
I suppose the question is this: what are you going to do about it?
If you need to work online and can’t become a monk (although that sounds good sometimes right?), the good news is that there are a number of apps you can use to stay focused. Here are the three that I use regularly:
- Self Control. This Mac-only app is very smart. It allows you to create a list of applications or websites that you know you’ll be tempted to visit. Then, by launching the app, it knows to not allow you to open those websites. I’ve used Self Control for months and find it very handy. You can also launch the app and tell it how long you want to do focused work. Self Control then begins and ends when your timed work is done. (cost: free)
- Coffitivity. Cofffitivity is a website (and app) with some pre-recorded sounds that simulate a coffee shop. The makers of of the application have stepped up their game and now offer a handful of different coffee shop soundtracks. Just launch the one that fits your mood and you’re off and running. There’s something about a little bit of back noise that helps you to focus and do your work. (cost: free; a $9 premium version is also available)
- White Noise. White Noise comes in both a free and for-pay version and it’s great. There are tons of sounds that you can try out, from the sound of a hairdryer to the purr of a cat to the sound of a rowboat along the water. White Noise is what I use when there is some other noise in the house or in my office. I launch White Noise and it serves to negate most of the other noise around me. This is very subtle but good news- it actually works. (cost: free; a premium option is also available)
Another tactic you might try is to use an iPad for as much of your work as possible. While you can certainly multi-task on an iPad (with split-screen that allows you to have two apps side by side), it lends itself to using one application at a time.
Whether you go with the iPad or the apps that I mentioned above, the key is to outsmart the distractions in your head. Once you do that, you’ll be more free to do your focused work.
BONUS: if you’re a person of prayer, you may want to try White Noise in order to set the mood and tune out the other noises around you. While this isn’t practical for praying at church, it does the trick for those times when you want to have a quiet time at home but just can’t seem to tune out the noise.