Defeat Tech Distractions

How to Fix It

Focusing on work instead of diversions is ultimately a matter of personal, mental dedication. But the very technology responsible for these distractions also offers a few solutions.

Here’s how to defang the tech toys that are wrecking your concentration.

The phone: Start by turning off the ringer while you’re working. For a more aggressive tactic to take the sting out of the ring, turn off your voicemail service--or let it get full, so that it can't accept additional messages. Soon your religious devotion to checking your voicemail will lapse because there will never be anything new to hear.

To prevent your smartphone from trumpeting every mundane event remotely related to your life (OMG! A new e-mail alert from Netflix!), you’ll have to go under the hood for a bit, but the operation isn't difficult. Consult your phone’s manual or online help to locate the phone’s Settings options. Then turn off audible alerts for new mail, Facebook alerts, and anything else that doesn’t require your immediate attention.

E-mail: First, decrease the frequency with which your program fetches e-mail messages. To do this in Microsoft Outlook, for example, go to Send/Receive Groups and change the time listed in the Schedule an automatic send/receive every X minutes field. An interval of 10 to 15 minutes is long enough to minimize the distraction while keeping you connected to your colleagues.

You can also disable or minimize the Desktop Alert in the bottom right corner of your screen. To disable the 'Display a Desktop Alert' feature, uncheck the relevant box--or use this same feature to decrease the length of time your screen displays it (but beware: if it stays visible for too short a time, it may prove to be an even greater distraction).

On your smartphone, set the mail app to check for new messages on a schedule that you specify; or better yet, set it to retrieve new messages only when you manually check for them.

Text messages: Text messages breed more text messages, because psychologically no one seems to be able to resist responding to such a message. The best way to avert text message abuse is to respond to texts on your own timetable and via a different medium, moving the conversation to the ground of your choosing.

For heavier-duty blockage, you can stop texts completely by calling your carrier and arranging to turn SMS service off. Alternatively, you can selectively block some messages, depending on your carrier, based on how they are sent (via e-mail, for example) or by associated keyword. Check with your phone company for instructions on how to do this.

Instant messages: Aside from simply logging out of your IM client (you can always claim that you forgot to open the app), the “Away” status setting is your friend here. Some users leave the 'BRB' setting on all day so that no one gets offended when they don't respond to IMs promptly.

Social networks: Facebook and the like will always be a distraction, but when social networks work in tandem with other distractions (specifically, e-mail), the effect can be really debilitating. Step one is to turn off e-mail alerts so that you won't be interrupted every time someone makes a vapid comment in connection with a picture you once “liked.” In Facebook, these options are located under Account, Account Settings, Notifications. Uncheck the boxes in the 'Email' column to disable the notices (there are many).

You might also consider disabling chat requests so you avoid being doubly distracted when you visit a social network. Click the chat tab in the bottom right part of the screen and click Go Offline whenever you don’t want to be bothered.

Everything else: If you can't resist the lure of the Internet of your own theoretically free will, check out Freedom ($10, for Mac and Windows), which will lock you out of the Web for a time interval of your choosing, forcing you to spend the time actually working. (Reboot if you have a Web emergency and need to reset the clock.) StayFocusd, a Google Chrome extension, offers similar features, allowing you to customize your access to specific Websites that you want to lock yourself out of periodically.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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