Limit Your Online Distractions in 4 Easy Steps

For years I've been trying to figure out how to reap the benefits of new technology without having texting and internet use become black holes that suck in too much time and attention. I'm far from having it all figured out (and am occasionally reminded of that fact, like when the kids were clamoring to do something last week, and I said "Yeah, yeah, whatever" because I was texting with a friend, and found out a few minutes later that they had been asking if they could open the jumbo box of popsicles in the living room). However, I have tried taking all sorts of steps to find balance in this area of life, and have stumbled across a few that have actually led to lasting, positive changes. Here are the top four that I've found helpful:

1. Filter all your notifications

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You sit down at your desk to pay bills at 1:00. Before you begin, you need to look up some data that's in your email account. You pull up email, and, hey, there's a note that somebody new followed you on Twitter! You click on the link to check out your new follower's bio, and then see the email that a bunch of people repinned something you posted on Pinterest; wondering what it was, you open the email and click through the link. The next email is a comment notification from your blog, and it's someone asking a question that you should respond to. Just when you're about to get to work reading Twitter bios and browsing Pinterest and replying to blog comments, you see the other email that tells you you have new messages waiting for you on Facebook. Long story short, by 2:00 you've done nothing toward paying bills and have about 50 tabs open in your browser.

If that scenario sounds even partially familiar, I have two words for you: Email filters.

I don't know how I got anything done before I learned how to create filters in Gmail. The details vary by platform, but pretty much every email system offers a way that you can flag emails by subject, by sender, or by content and have them whisked away to special folders for you to check at your convenience (here are details for creating filters in Gmail,  Yahoo and Hotmail). For example, I have special folders for Pinterest, Twitter, blog comments, and the various email lists I subscribe to, and all the emails I receive from those places are automatically put in their proper folders. That way I can log in to my inbox and get my business done without being hit with a ton of distractions.

2. Turn off notification sounds on your phone

This one is going to sound crazy to a lot of folks, but I can't recommend strongly enough that you try turning of text and email and social media notification sounds on your smartphone. A while back I silenced all the sounds on my phone for everything but incoming calls, and I cannot tell you how much of a difference it's made in my life. I still check for new text messages or emails regularly, but now I can do it when it best fits into my schedule, rather than being distracted by a ding! when I'm trying to focus on other things.

3. Don't check your phone first thing in the morning

It was that now-famous How to Miss a Childhood post that first got me thinking about this one. I'd never really thought about when I checked in on social media and email, and something clicked for me when I read the author's line about looking at your phone in the morning before you even greet the people in your family. If nothing else, smartphones are distraction boxes, and it's hard to start a day purposefully when you're being pulled in a dozen different directions by the new alerts that have come in over the night. I've found it tremendously helpful to keep all connectedness to the outside world at bay until I've had some time in the morning to plan my day, pray, and say good morning to my family.

4. Look for hidden problems that may be fueling your internet/social media use

Not that I ever manage my online time perfectly, but there have been a few phases of life when I was spending waaaay too much time on internet and social media stuff. I was deeply attached, and I knew it -- yet I couldn't seem to pull myself away. Looking back, the problem wasn't a love of being online per se; rather, it was that I had other problems that I was avoiding dealing with. In my case (and I think this is somewhat common with moms), I was feeling completely overwhelmed. I had almost no breathing room in my crazy schedule, I rarely got time to rest and recharge my batteries, I felt close to a mental breaking point each day, and the result was that I constantly sought little escapes in the form of a glowing screen. Once my husband and I dealt with the root problem and I began getting some of the down-time that I so desperately needed, I found that I was no longer drawn to spend so much time online.

--> What steps do you take to keep your internet and social media use in balance?