Social media and mobile devices have succeeded in making so many mundane tasks seem like fires that need to be put out now. That 7am tweet asking you to be at the 3pm meeting? The Facebook message with an RFP? (And if you’re not getting RFPs via Facebook, you soon will be). All of these things gain an importance way out of proportion to their true urgency when they come in via new channels. It’s one of the basics of how the human brain works: novelty gets our attention more than something we’re habituated to, so social and mobile communication, being more novel than email, just grabs our attention away from information coming in on more traditional channels. The result is a nation of people trying to stay focused on big tasks while little tasks keep climbing in the digital window.
Set aside a specific time in the day to check your Twitter and Facebook. Make sure you go on when others in your group are most active so you don’t miss essential updates. But, don’t keep these networks open on your computer all day, even if you have business connections who communicate with you on these channels. Once a project that originated on Twitter is underway, give everyone your business cell and email, and move the conversation over there. Use good tools like Seesmic to manage all your accounts from an efficient dashboard. If you monitor your brand’s social media presence, consider asking for several people to take monitoring in shifts, rather than trying to do it 24-7.
The single most important thing you can do to minimize mobile distractions is to change your phone’s notification settings. Go into each app and make sure you don’t get intrusively notified every time you get a tweet, an email,or a post to your wall. Dial down the level of urgency on notifications you must receive—for instance, you need to get a notification every time you get an office email, but maybe your phone doesn’t have to light up, vibrate, and buzz. Those urgent noises make you feel obliged to answer every message, so keep the alerts low-key. For less urgent messages, like tweets, eliminate notifications completely.
Turn off all notices when you’re concentrating on a major project, like your slides for your next presentation. Close your email, and get to work.
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