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.