You are planning to do something and then, unexpectedly, side-tracked by your curiosity, you spend an hour using social media. Does that sound familiar? This has happened to me so many times.
Here are some things that you can do in moments like that, when you feel you are not being productive enough, or when time seems to slip through your fingers while you keep browsing the net.
I have found these actions really helpful:
1) Keep breathing
This seems like a universal solution to so many things. As a pillar of mindfulness, a simple technique of concentration on your breathing can bring results. Even if you take several breaths, for a short moment, your mind may find it easier to come back to the present moment and to really see what is important for you to do. The thing is there is a plethora of things online and many of them are truly interesting and nourishing, but the key is not to get overwhelmed by this abundance, but to choose wisely and keep doing what brings you towards your goals, even if there are many equally interesting things at your fingertips. It´s possible.
2) Focus on one thing at a time
Contrary to a common belief that we can accomplish more if we do several things simultaneously, multitasking is overrated. Stanford researchers have explained how focusing on many things is actually less productive than full focus on one thing at a time. You can find a Time article about the research here.
3) Connect to your intuition
Your intuition will always tell you what is important to you. The crucial thing is to listen to it. When overwhelmed by choice, instead of analysing, or choosing randomly, listen to that inner voice that has something to say to you. When it tells you which task is the most important one for you to do now, do that first. Yes, acting on this feeling really matters. If you cannot finish that task immediately, for any reason, schedule a specific time in your day and DO IT, regardless of a thousand distractions and other things to do. This is something time management books tell you – there are tasks that are urgent, and ones that are important – and this does not always go together. So, instead of checking your mailbox frantically for the tenth time, it may be a good idea to do something from the “important” list instead.
4) Limit your usage of social media
This feels like stating the obvious, but sometimes we don´t realize how much time we are spending browsing through our friends updates and checking out the latest pictures and links. Of course, there is nothing wrong in doing that, and it´s great to keep in touch with friends, but in the same way that our mind likes dwelling on worries much more than it is necessary, we tend to get hooked and check out the influx of information much more frequently than we really need. It´s different for everyone. I´m not going to tell you to limit the usage of social media to 15 minutes, or 30 minutes, because you know your needs very well. You cannot lie to yourself about how many things you have clicked not because of your genuine interest in the subject, but because of boredom, or without any particular reason. When you know it, you can modify your behaviour to better suit your goals.
5) Meditate before starting your day
This is a practical thing to do in the morning. Whenever I do that, I tend to make better decisions, be more peaceful, focused and less distracted. It clears your mind of unnecessary cravings (or at least lets you see them) and makes you react in a more mindful way. There are many types of meditation, and you can choose whichever you prefer and are familiar with. If you haven´t meditated before, sitting with your eyes closed and breathing in and out and concentrating on every breath will help you calm down and stay centred. It is especially recommended before a busy or stressful day. There is an old Zen saying that tells you: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day, unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour”. This will keep your mind off things that are not serving you.
6) Schedule time for just browsing
We all know how hard it is sometimes to resist checking out information that is truly, genuinely interesting for us. If you want to develop your passions, gain new knowledge, meet new people and find groups, the Internet is great for that. It would be silly to dismiss the abundance of available tools and resources just because they are distracting. There is the art in manoeuvring this wide, wild world (or, World Wide Web, in other words) in a way it doesn´t keep us off track, but also in a way it nourishes and informs us. Therefore, I´d suggest scheduling some time in your day/week completely devoted to browsing whatever you find interesting online, without a particular goal to find out about something, but to follow your curiosity. During your normal days, when you want to focus on something important, but you have just received this amazing link from a friend, instead of checking it out immediately and delaying your work for a minute (what can turn out to be half an hour), you can save the link or add it to the reading list in your browser. On your scheduled day of browsing you can just open that list and enjoyably devour whatever you wanted to see before.
7) Read books regularly
This, in general, helps us to be focused for longer periods of time, to digest bigger chunks of information and to be more patient (sometimes it needs many pages to get our questions answered, as opposed to two clicks). It also wonderfully expands our imagination, empathy and knowledge. Apart from that, reading a novel can make physical changes to your brain, as Emory University research has recently proven. It can create increased connectivity that is lasting for days after you finish the book. You can read more about it here. As an addition, when you tend to read books regularly, you´re not so easily distracted by urgent things. You are more able to focus on one thing only for a prolonged period of time. It can really make a difference.
And, last but not least:
8) Change your seat from time to time
As simple as it may sound, this piece of advice is really tested and can help you gain a fresh perspective on whatever you´re doing. It may help you get out of a rut you may find yourself in, and when you feel you´re doing something monotonous, it´s more likely to look for some distractions to keep it interesting. Such a small thing as taking your laptop to another table, another room, or, if not possible, moving your chair a little bit or even adjusting your body position, can help you stay on track.
These are the things that work for me. Do you have your own ways of staying on track with your goals, and staying mindful and connected to your intuition among many online distractions?
Please share your experiences in the comments below, I will be happy to read about yours.
Anna Wawrzyniak is an intuitive writer, songwriter and a keen researcher on humanistic subjects, healing techniques, ancient knowledge and anthropology. She´s passionate about exploring the ways they relate to the modern world and contemporary society. You can know more about Anna in her blog “What Anna Writes” and contact her on Twitter.