Balancing connectedness and mindful focus

When I ran across this post by Beth Kanter, I was thrilled to see that one of her New Year’s resolutions was to reduce distractions. Coincidentally, one of my resolutions was the same: reducing distractions and improving my focus – while still staying in touch.

As Beth says, information overload gets in the way of productivity, preventing us from reaching states of deep focus that we need to be effective. Often I find myself reading through my Google Reader or browsing Twitter when instead I should be working or studying for the LSAT. Social media is reducing the level of focus I can sustain, and I’d like to change that. I love the social web, but I don’t want to be a slave to it!

So how can we deal with information overload in this age of social media?

You know, I haven’t been particularly successful at implementing my New Year’s resolution yet (hey, it’s still January!) so I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question. But here are a few strategies I hope to use this coming year.

  1. Turn off the technology: This is hard to do because nowadays, most work does require the use of a computer. However, when I’m studying for the LSAT, I put aside my computer, take a deep breath, and get into the mood to focus for a minimum of 2 hours straight. If I want to write or brainstorm for a blog post or grant proposal, sometimes it can be effective to take out a notebook and switch off the computer screen. Getting physically far away from social media can help.
  2. Meditation: I hope to spend more time practicing meditation and yoga, so that I can increase my ability to focus and concentrate without distractions. I’m not particularly good at meditation yet, but I certainly hope that it will bring me greater focus and peace of mind if I’m able to keep at it.
  3. Time Box: This technique is mentioned by Beth Kanter, and sounds helpful. It involves setting a specific amount of time one can spend on social media or on the Internet. Sometimes, we end up logging on to Twitter for just a minute only to start a conversation, or follow one link after another until 20 windows are open in Firefox! That’s really not productive. Perhaps we can set a strict “time box” on how long we can spend browsing/scanning the Internet per day.
  4. Log on strategically: Instead of having Tweetdeck or Google Reader open all the time on my computer, I’ll try to log-on and log-off more frequently. If I just close the Google Reader or gmail window, I’m not as tempted to read and browse. A similar technique could be setting two specific times of day to check and respond to personal emails (this would obviously not fly at work).
  5. Go on a social media diet: This past weekend, I experimented with not logging onto any of my social media platforms for the whole weekend – Google Reader, Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr. I still allowed myself to write blogs, as long as it didn’t mean I was reading too many unnecessary articles. To some extent, taking this break has been really helpful. I was definitely able to get a lot of work done, I was less distracted, and I got out of the house to spend more time with friends. Overall, the break was rejuvenating. The only problem was that I found myself spending more time watching TV or movies than I would have otherwise. Still, it was nice not to be inundated by news stories and blog headlines, and to have some more quiet time to myself. I felt like my chaotic mind was calmed down a bit, and life ran at a slower pace – which was nice. Most surprisingly, it wasn’t particularly difficult to swear off social media! Today, even as I return to social media, I still feel more focused on my work and less distracted than I was previously.

No matter how much I love social media, I do value my time away from it. I think we all need a break sometimes, and we need to realize that the social web will be there for us when we return.


4 Responses to Balancing connectedness and mindful focus

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the tip Akhila! I definitely meant to read Beth Kanter’s post and then failed because it got buried under all of the other links that I meant to read – classic case of information overload perhaps? In any case, thanks for the reminder and hope you enjoyed your weekend unplugged!

    • Akhila says:

      Emily, glad you liked this post. I loved Kanter’s post as it was something I’ve been thinking about, and she had a lot of useful tips. I think it definitely helps to get away from social media a bit so we learn not to be overwhelmed with information – the extent to which we are connected now is not really necessary!

  2. asummermoon says:

    I think we all have a hard time finding time for ourselves and social media isn’t the only culprit. If not the social media it’s over time at work, making commitments to friends and family when you planned to take a day to yourself. It seems as we get more technologically advanced we have less time for ourselves. Weird, as technology is supposed to make things more convenient. But you are very right the social web will be there after a much needed break. btw love your blog.

    • Akhila says:

      Yes, you do make a good point! It’s not always because of social media that we are distracted from doing work or making time for ourselves. There are always things in life that come up or somehow, prevent us from doing what we want to… There are often excuses we make, but sometimes we just have to stop and do what needs to be done! Thanks for reading :)

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