Get a grip: dealing with the distractions of email and social media while working


The fear of missing out, or FoMO, is a pervasive condition that affects much of modern society. Characterised by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”, FoMO is what compels us to repeatedly check our email and various social media accounts even if we're absorbed in an important task. Smartphones have greatly compounded this problem by giving us access to instant distractions. We often find ourselves checking our phones in the middle of meetings, conversations with colleagues, and especially when we're working alone on a task.

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Research has found that the human brain's endless quest for dopamine creates in us an insatiable curiosity for information – the very thing that drives our internet addiction and causes working professionals to constantly check their emails. It also robs us of the ability to ignore notifications – whether on our phone or our desktop – regardless of how preoccupied we may be at the time.

The repercussions

Needless to say, an addiction to checking emails and several social media accounts seriously undermines the productivity of any working professional. We usually adopt a specific mind-set when we're working on a task, and deviating from the task, no matter for how short a duration, causes us to lose our focus. Returning to the task at hand with utmost concentration, then, takes around 20 minutes on average. And, sadly, most of these deviations aren't even sparked by any notifications but rather by our self-interrupting tendencies.

It isn't only our work productivity that takes a hit because of this habit, but our psychological well-being as well. Research has proven that performing typical office tasks while being constantly interrupted results in higher levels of stress, frustration, mental effort, feeling of time pressure and mental workload. The frequent use of social media, too, has been shown to cause anti-social behaviour, depression, and anxiety besides a host of other psychological disorders. With email and social media addiction posing such serious threats to a person's health and working ability, it's high time to combat it with fervour.

Fighting the addiction

The first thing you need to realise to fight email and social media addiction at work is that there's no such thing as being good at multitasking. If you think that a quick glance at your inbox or Facebook account won't impair your ability complete the task you're working on at the moment, then think again. As mentioned earlier, even the smallest distraction can have huge ramifications on a person's concentration and hence productivity. The first thing you need to do to avoid being distracted while working is remove the temptation, aka notifications. Before you undertake a task, put your phone on silent mode — not vibrate, silent. Without the continuous pinging that heralds the arrival of something important that you may need to know, the temptation to whip out your phone will be greatly reduced.

The second thing you should do is establish a strict control over your email-checking habits. Emails are an inescapable part of office life and there's no getting around that fact. But there really is no need to check your inbox multiple times even you're busy with a task. Assigning fixed times to check your emails – once every few hours or more, depending on your requirements – will see you completing tasks much faster than earlier. If self-discipline isn't your forte, there are several applications available to help you minimise distractions and maximise your productivity. For example, StayFocusd is a Chrome extension that allows users to restrict the amount of time they spend on certain sites, thereby preventing their errant browsing habits from coming in the way of their work.

It's not only your work life, but your personal one as well that'll witness an improvement if you learn to control your email – and social media – checking habits. When we're at home, a cursory glance at a Facebook or Instagram notification often turns into an hours-long expedition down a rabbit hole filled with unnecessary and irrelevant information. Time which could be better spent on a hobby, or even sleep for that matter, is instead wasted staring at the addictive glow of a screen.


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