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Lab Rat: How Can A Social Media Addict Find Focus?

When your job doesn’t allow for uninterrupted focus, how do you re-learn productivity while embracing the distracting social web?

It started as early as “Study Skills” class in elementary school, where, along with the merits of color-coding Post-Its, we were taught the importance of focus. The message was simple: to be successful and productive, learn to train your mind on one subject without distraction, then walk away and switch gears.  Yet, after years of practicing this mode of thinking, we enter the working world, where the day isn’t divided into neat little chunks of focus time, and we’re expected to integrate “distracting” activities seamlessly into our workdays.

s Behance’s Community Manager, my job requires me both to dig deep into several brainy projects, and to embrace interruptive activities like keeping up with social chatter and emails as the voice of our brand. When I took a step back recently, I realized I’d become a pro at being on-call and timely in the social media department – but it was coming at the expense of bigger picture projects. Long-range focus had fallen by the wayside as I gave in to the Twitter feed, Email account, and Facebook posts. Most dangerous of all, I could easily rationalize checking the social chatter over and over again.I decided to experiment with two different solutions to increase my focus.


Use a laptop to keep “distracting” social media work (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, customer service emails) in a separate location, while making desktop computer my “focus area.” Try for one week.

What Happened:

I rolled into work early Monday morning invigorated and immediately made a list of the bigger projects I’d been neglecting recently as my focus had lagged. I usually jot down my to-dos as soon as I get to work, and I made sure to incorporate at least one of these “thinkier” tasks into the daily plan.

Around noon, I checked in on my laptop, giving each account a once-over and responding to urgent items. Then, I devoted myself to social media management for another hour at the end of the day. By Monday evening, I had made progress on a project that had been nagging me for weeks. In fact, I was feeling so confident about cutting down on distractions that I skipped my usual pre-bedtime blog reading/photo viewing/emailing session that night.

By Monday evening, I had made progress on a project that had been nagging me for weeks.

Tuesday, I held strong to my two-screen system, but found myself swiveling over to the laptop far more often. This wasn’t just a result of a less rigid focus (though that was also true); there were more fires to put out and questions to answer in the social media realm that day. As I responded to emails, tweets, and inquiries on my 12-inch screen, I had to admit a hard truth to myself: these activities took longer to complete on a smaller computer.You can imagine how the rest of the week went: A downward spiral. By Friday, my laptop had basically turned into a distraction machine, and was almost certainly not helping me become more focused.


Make my Laptop my “focus area,” and take it with me for two hours each day to work on a project requiring intense focus. Try for one week.

What Happened:

On Monday, after a few hours of productive work, I consulted my list of bigger projects, and prioritized them. Instead of picking up a to-go coffee mid-afternoon, I took my laptop to a nearby café and settled in for a focused work session. I got a lot done, and relished the welcome change of scenery. The week went on successfully, and I continued to chip away at big projects and brainstormed new ideas that I recently hadn’t had the mental clarity to consider at my desk.

Breaking up the workday by leaving the office made both halves of the day much more manageable, and gave me the chance to “reset” my workspace and mental state. Forced to leave my desk (and its pile-up of open web browser tabs), I had no choice but to slow down and stop madly clicking between things.

Breaking up the workday by leaving the office made both halves of the day much more manageable.

If leaving the office isn’t possible for you, I found that even a simple change in environment (like ducking into a conference room) enabled me to focus more intently. After a few minutes of absorption, I also found myself much more excited to work on big, meaty projects than usual.Also, taking a break from people helped. Although I find working in an open-plan office to be fun and welcoming, I’m often distracted by phones calls, co-workers IMing me a question, or even pulling me over to laugh over the latest YouTube meme. With this experiment, I was not available for interruptions simply because I wasn’t there. Not only that, but I had nobody else to blame for my lack of focus besides myself.

By Friday, I had made progress on all of the big projects on my list, and finally felt a distinction between time spent thinking deeply, and time spent maintaining the community.


After experimenting with regaining focus while also performing the more distracting elements of my job, there were a few things that I found worked (with or without a two-screen system):

  • Slow down, and choose one thing to work on at a time. By multitasking to the extreme and constantly switching between projects, you may think you’re being productive, when, really, you’re being frantic.
  • Mimic a “school-day” calendar by creating blocks for different types of work during the day. If you have 2 different projects to work on, block off 1-2 hours for each, with a hour in between when you can catch up on social media and email.
  • Leave your desk. Even if this means simply bringing a pad of paper into the conference room at your office, physical separation from your distractions will help you gain clarity as you start a new project.
  • Consider your old techniques for productivity and carry a few specific ones over to your workday. Even if social media is at the core of your job, don’t let yourself off the hook from remembering how you used to get your work done.

How Do You Manage Social Media Distractions?

Do you have any special techniques for keeping your social media distractions to a minimum?

What do you do to cut through the noise?

More Posts by Sarah Rapp

Comments (23)
  • Milhealth

    Great article! I’m preparing a conference presentation, having a laptop (Macbook) w/Parallels is a great way to be ‘distracted’ … in both Windows & Mac! Imagine, two of each (Chrome, Safari, and FireFox), so I jump to my iPad-my focus device. Unfortunately … the new OS enables you to multi-task. I shouldn’t have downloaded it, but then again, I’m a techno junkie. Twitter and e-mail, my solution…. shut it all off. I work more hours now that I work at home, but, I do love what I am doing, so I am going to follow your blog and <try to=””> follow your suggestions. Wish me luck! Ah, a text message on my iPhone. Bye 🙂 </try>

  • Tammy

    Even though email and social media are a big part of many jobs these days, it is also easy to let it be a procrastinating tool. The 2 things I have done recently to make sure I’m not procrastinating by checking facebook 5 times an hour is 1. Make my internet browser button out of sight, therefore, not as tempting. I dont have it on my desktop or as a quicklink on my PC’s start bar. If I dont see the logo all the time, I wont be tempted to mindlessly click on it. 2. I have made my homepage an abrupt interrogator asking “Are you Procrastinating right now?” by making my home page. Try it out! It’s great!


    Nice article. Thanks for sharing. The list at the bottom is a keeper.

  • Paula Lee Bright

    Like you, I’ve been experimenting with this problem.

    Unlike you, I haven’t had any success. I think I need to reexamine my choices and goals!

    I feel kinda rotten, now. Rats!

  • Rachel

    I can’t believe that actually worked. Nice one!

  • Andrew

    Great experiment. I’ve had similar experiences. Email and Social media can feel like the instant gratification version of getting work done while bigger projects and deeper thinking gets pushed off. There have been some recent studies/articles (WSJ) on how the web encourages more shallow, versus deeper, thinking. I’ve had positive results inline with your conclusions. Sadly it’s hard to get away from the computer screen. I also believe multitasking equals doing multiple things adequately rather than doing one thing really well.

  • ignacio sagone

    i had this problem a few months ago and i discovered 2 tools that changed everything

    1. google calendar, actually google apps, (where you can brand your gmail/calendar/docs) is perfect for “school-day” schedule
    2. nirvana hq the best organization online tool ( i tried about 15 )

    It is very important to think about why you use so much time on social media, and say to yourself, do i really like really really need to be in this very moment online? if not then logout and if you want set a schedule like 9-10pm its about get used to it, i did it and got my time back!


  • anniefiddle

    Great advice for anyone working in an environment where turning Twitter and email off isn’t an option.Thanks!

  • miere de albine

    Great work. I was very impress

  • piese auto

    Uauu. That is the best from here

  • Saïd Martínez

    Thank you for another great post on productivity. I’m on the stake out for a design position & everyday I believe more that multi-tasking isn’t as productive as people may think. How do I respond to job applications where the potential employer is seeking a ninja “‘multi-tasker’ for busy design shop.” I really want to engage my interviewer in my potential, but don’t want to regurgitate that I too am that ninja.

    Said Martinez

  • Shashank duhan

    We all must be aware about the fact that this is a virtual society and not a real thing,we must spent more time in real human interaction than this far-far virtual interaction..

  • Keir64

    I liked the point about focusing largely on one thing, rather than switching between different tasks and getting the illusion of being productive when youre actually being frantic, I think thats something ive been quite bad for!

  • Cole Laurel

    I’m good at managing my dist

  • Hello

    If you have a few days to spare, use social media until the late hours of the night/early morning. Associate it with the feeling of being tired, you’ll soon get bored and want to do something else.

  • Abby Fichtner, HackerChick

    Thank you! This completely describes my job and I’ve been trying very hard to do (basically) your Experiment #1 but seeing similar results to what you saw. Will have to try experiment #2.

  • IC3D

    Very helpful information. Thanks for sharing!

  • Chipo Mugomba

    A good read and some useful ideas. I read somewhere that human beings are not able to multi-task (yes, women included), its just that some of us can switch between tasks alot quicker than others but at some point you do reach some sort of breaking point or one area of work suffers as a result.

    Anyway, I’m off to ask the boss for a second PC, fingers crossed 😉

  • Yvonneq

    I also manage my company’s social media. I have definitely seen myself doing more of the frantic kind of working these days. Switching back and forth between several projects and not feeling like any are actually getting done. Glad to know i’m not the only one. definitely going to try to remove myself from my desk more often. Thanks for the suggestions. Highly relevant article for the modern day office!

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    Nice review ! I like your article and i will definitely look again……………………………………

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