7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! | Beth's Blog

7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried!

Content Curation, Mindfulness, Organizational Culture

Mindmap by Jane Genovese

This morning I learned a new word for information overload – “content fried” from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated.    We have so much content in our professional lives.  I’m talking about the stuff we consume daily to keep inform of our professional field.    It comes speeding at us  from our email boxes, social networks, kindles, and even paper and snail mail!     We scan, we browse, we try to thoughtfully read the best stuff, and interact through online conversations.

Then there’s the whole other world of organizational content that you need to consume or create to get stuff done!   Reading, reviewing, commenting,  writing, and editing content.

For those of us who work on social media and networks,   “content fried” is an occupational hazard.  So, it is important for us to incorporate techniques in daily work life that reduce the chances of this happening.

I’m finding that my learning and online work is a fast forward, swimming in the stream experience.   I can’t possibly read everything, but I am using content curation skills to pick out the best stuff to give more attention to.  I find I can only do that work at certain times of the day or only for so long.       The biggest difficulty I experience is the shifting from this forward flowing process of consuming, curating, and sense-making of content to learn versus to get something done.   The latter requires a different type of attention and whole new set of information coping skills.

Howard Rheingold calls this process managing your attention or “Infoattention” and it is what he has been teaching in his courses.    I’ve been trying to curate content that offers  ideas, tips, and resources to get past that ugly feeling of “content fried.”    He curated the above mindmap and when I  shared this  Google + , I discovered that nonprofit colleagues have the same struggle.  I liked this map so much that I printed it out and keep at my desk.

I decided to spend a little bit time reflecting on the diagram and pull out some tips for re-learning focus:

1.)   Manage Your Attention,  Not Just Your Time: Don’t just create a to do list, lay it out on daily and weekly schedule, breaking down key tasks of the project to chunks.  But consider the level of concentration and focus that each type of task or chunk requires – and schedule accordingly.   For example,  if I have to do some writing – that requires a higher level of attention for me than does scanning Twitter or reading and responding to email.     I schedule my writing time during peak concentration hours in the day.   (I’ve charted those – so I  know when they occur).   I also use a timer when I’m doing scanning my networks and time box those activities into 15-20 minute bursts.

2.)  Visualize On Paper: Over the past 10 months,  I’ve made a return to paper and markers and using mind maps or visualization techniques to reflect, plan my week or day.     I use this as a pre-writing exercise as well as a reflection exercise.       It’s why felt the need to dive into visual facilitation and thinking techniques as a way to cope with content fried.

3.)  Establish Rituals: Rituals in your work life are valuable. The mindmap offers a lot of good suggestions for rituals – from decluttering your workspace to healthy habits like sleep and exercise.

4.)  Reflection: Reflection doesn’t have to be a huge amount of time to be effective.   I’m taking ten minutes every morning to practice some visual recording skills like drawing to create my “3 Most Important Things for Today List.”    At the end of the day,  I look at it, reflect on what I did – and plan for tomorrow.       The advice is not to go online or check email until you get your three things done, but that is very hard for me – given so much of my work is online.   What I do is try to avoid email first thing in the morning.

5.)  Managing Email and Other Distractions: I’ve turned off notifications that pop up on my computer screen or send me a text message to my mobile phone.

6.) Managing Physical Space: When I see clutter in my physical work spaces, I try to take that as a sign that I need to hit a pause button.   Usually it is because I’m doing too much.

7.) Just Say No: Maybe you are going to say no to social media for a day and go to meet with people, take a class, read a book, or talk a walk.     When I’m feeling most overwhelmed,  I take a break.   Even if it is just to get up and walk around my desk.

What are your tips to help you focus in an age of distraction?    Are there tips not on the mind map?   Have you read a helpful article or blog recently that helped get more focused?

100 Responses

  1. Joanne Fritz says:

    Thanks for this post, Beth! I’m focusing lately on exercising more frequently and for longer.
    Then this article caught my eye this morning about exercise and creativity. It’s at Fast Company and is by Jonathan Fields. Here’s the url: http://www.fastcompany.com/1783263/the-creative-brain-on-exercise

  2. AJ says:

    Content fried is a great way to put it! The only thing that helps me avoid the state of anxiety/fatigue that happens when I’ve been totally inundated all day is to get up and walk around, even for a few minutes. It helps me clear my head a little bit and feel like myself again, even if it’s just a quick walk up and down the block. I waited tables in college and I never thought I would remember the feeling fondly of being totally physically exhausted after a shift- now I kind of miss it! Working on the computer and engaging with every bit of content or ongoing dialogue that crosses my desk gives me ‘floating head’ syndrome, where I feel like my whole brain is going to come untethered from my body and just float away- a short, brisk walk helps bring me back to earth and refocus!

  3. Beth Kanter says:

    Joanne: I’ve returned to exercise myself – it really helps with focus. AJ – love the walk around tip

  4. Chris says:

    Great post! I find it best to stand up and walk around the office or room when I take my breaks.

  5. Whenever I can’t concentrate anymore, I usually go the to bathroom and throw some water in my face. Also, this really helps when your kind of sleepy.

  6. Gail Perry says:

    Thank you thank you, Beth! Need the tips and the reminders. We all seem busier than ever. And social media gives us a happy excuse to socialize while we talk about content. Addictive! : )

  7. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! […]

  8. Great post, Beth, especially about planning things out with a piece of paper. I urge my journalism students to sketch out a rough draft of what they want to do before they touch a screen to design a Web page or a blog. Old fashioned technology still comes in handy.

  9. I don’t have a tip, but I have a related story.

    A few weeks ago I found a potentially interesting Twitter chat that I wanted to attend. It had already happened, so I investigated its schedule and found it happened at 10pm EST on a Wednesday evening. Even on West Coast time (7pm), why would I want to be doing a Twitter chat at that time? Because that’s when I have free time? Really?

    One of the biggest Twitter chats is on Sunday evenings…what happened to the day of rest? Can we at least take a moment to rest?

    Saying no to this kind of thing seems like a sacrifice and an act of bravery at the same time.

  10. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! Mindmap by Jane Genovese This morning I learned a new word for information overload – “content fried” from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated.    We have so much content in our professional lives. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  11. Beth Kanter says:

    @Kerri – I think the lines between work and personal time are just as blurred as they are on social networks. It requires that we do a better job of saying no and boundaries. Thanks for sharing that story.

    @Frank – I agree – I’ve gone back to paper and pen. All digital gives me vertigo.

  12. Yes, yes and more yes! Along the pen and notebook lines, outline before you start to write via keyboard etc. Ideas and framework have to be there before you start filling in the lines. Otherwise, too easy to crank it out without a strong foundation.

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  14. Good post on an important subject! I like your ideas for setting boundaries and chunks of time for various activities. I find it important when scanning Twitter and other social media to tag “read later” items that are significant for my work, so I can read them at times when I can give them due attention. Along the lines of your point 7, totally unplugging sometimes is important for me. We make Sunday our offline day as a family, good ritual.

    Hamlets Blackberry is a great read on the subject, and the author Tweets on topics like this @hamletsbb.

  15. Beth says:

    Nancy – thanks for the tip!

  16. Beth says:

    David, thanks for stopping by and sharing that Twitter account!

  17. […] 7:14 a.m., I read Beth Kanter’s wonderfully helpful 7 Tips to Help You Focus post. This was after I had scanned three Twitter and Facebook accounts each, and read my email […]

  18. Geri Stengel says:

    Old wisdom is often the best wisdom. The whole idea of the Sabbath and Sunday was to take a day off to be with your family and friends. Still a good idea … if you can grab a whole day!

  19. Rahul says:

    Thanks, this is brilliant! There’s so much information out there that its nearly impossible to grasp it all. Some people have the knack to do it but mostly dont. And when people try to cope up with the minority group aka the specialists, is when they get “content fried”. I myself am one in process, but thankfully not deep fried yet.

    Totally agree on visualizing on paper. It works because there is a pragmatic connection between your limbs/fingers and brain. The brain “gets it” when you actually use your hands to create something, in contrast to just punching on keyboard.
    Digital, though, helps in archiving and sharing conveniently. Paper it first, digital it to follow.

  20. Anneleen van Beek says:

    For the ‘what did I do’ part:

    http://idonethis.com/

  21. Beth Kanter says:

    Geri: your qualifier, “if we can grab a whole day” – should we just say we’re doing it – and make it a habit. I’m trying to do this. It is hard.

    Rahul: I agree with your “paper it first, digital it to follow” I’m doing this with everything and gives me an excuse to get more magic markers..

    Anneleen: Just checked out that tool – the thought of getting an email though … but if you time it at the end of the day – could use it as part of the brief reflection on what got done.

  22. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  23. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  24. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  25. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  26. Claire Sale says:

    I just try to be REALLY organized with the information that I need for myself, for my team, and for my community.

  27. Beth says:

    Claire: What are some of your systems or techniques for being organized?

  28. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  29. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  30. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  31. Lindsay Bealko says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE the visual, and can’t wait to print it out and put it on the wall as a reminder. As an independent who works from home each day, I think managing distractions and taking breaks has elevated to new importance for me, because there isn’t as much structure built into the days (unless I put it there). Lately, I’ve started every day with at least 30 minutes of walking (consider this my “commute”) so I’ve gotten out of the house before sitting down to work. & rely heavily on mapping all tasks to calendar & breaking up work into chunks that give me variety of clients and tasks. need to start using Beth’s tip of the egg timer and the mindmap tip of 3 most important things – thanks for the great inspiration! (I’ll need it as winter approaches especially!)

  32. Beth says:

    You go! I started Mindmapping again so I could justify my investment in magic markers! Great thing to do exercise first thing.

  33. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  34. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  35. […] more information, Beth Kanter recently shared “7 Tips to Help You Focus in an Age of Distraction” for those who are starting to feel information […]

  36. Mark Gale says:

    Those are some really good tips. I like the idea of choosing peak concentration times versus just scheduling the day.

  37. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  38. Angie @AgentKnowHow says:

    Beth, to you answer your last question, this is the one article that I’ve read all week that gives me some clarity as to what I have to do differently in 2012. I am a big fan of routines. As much as I like flexible time, structure and time blocking is still the number one solution to keep me focus. One thing I would like to mention is the appropiriate use of apps to engage in the moment. Most people use hootsuite to schedule tweets or updates so that they don’t have to be near their streams. I like to schedule tweets/updates and be available at the same time as when my tweets or updates go out so that I can engage in the moment. This simple change in my social interactions helps me connect and be more productivity throughout my day. Overall good tips!

  39. Jing says:

    The tips are really great in terms of time management, the new social media changes the way that the brain processing data, and therefore adjustment of adoptions is a must! especially this one:”Visualize On Paper: Over the past 10 months, I’ve made a return to paper and markers and using mind maps or visualization techniques to reflect, plan my week or day. I use this as a pre-writing exercise as well as a reflection exercise. It’s why felt the need to dive into visual facilitation and thinking techniques as a way to cope with content fried.”

  40. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  41. Great post, I love the mindmap and the tips.
    A great source of distraction you did not refer is… colleagues. It’s really hard to accomplish tasks when everyone passing by your door can stop by and ask a question or ask you to do something for them.
    A friend who works in a hi-tech firm told me they have one day a week of no meetings and no colleagues distractions. Another way to deal with that is to ask people to send requests and questions by email (which is great especially for questions you can reply with a link)

  42. Beth says:

    Ma’ayan – that is such a good point. It is hard when you don’t have a door to close. I use my iPod a lot. I like your suggestion ofusing email, I’ve heard of people also using skype for this – even though being in the same office.

  43. […] 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried! This morning I learned a new word for information overload – content fried from a colleague at the Packard Foundation.    It resonated. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

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