Sometimes during the day I find myself in a random cycle of checking my various inboxes. I realize I’m going back and forth between Twitter, email, RSS, random web surfing, back to Twitter, to email, etc… I’m not doing anything productive whatsoever — I’m just zoning out looking and waiting for something new to come along. It’s a complete waste of time.
What’s worse is that it can be hard to snap out of it and get back to doing something productive. So when I realize that I’m going back and forth between inboxes not actually doing anything I’ve learned a little trick on how to snap out of it.
I get up from my desk and go walk around for about 60 seconds. Maybe to get a drink of water or just to move my legs.
When I come back to my desk I pick one task that I know I can do quickly. It doesn’t even have to be something super-productive or even work-related. Today, for example, my snap-out-of-it task was to add Unstoppable to my Netflix queue.
Once I’ve gotten that small task done I pick another. Then another. And then I’m back on focus.
I’m in no way against checking the inboxes like email, RSS, Twitter, and the others. But when I check them I want to be active about it (instead of passive). When I check for what’s new I want it to be with intent to do something about it.
Which is why I recommend that if you’re going to zone out or take a mental break, do so with a medium that doesn’t also at times require your attention when you’re not zoning.
Email is by far the best example of this: when you’re checking your email it should be with intent to do something about those emails. Because if you also check your email as a way to zone out, then it becomes much easier to flip open your email to see what’s new yet without ever actually doing anything about those new emails.
Or, to put it another way: a simple way to help avoid ever even getting into the zone-out cycle is to only ever check your email or twitter or RSS feeds when you’re actually able and willing to act on those inboxes. Which is, of course, much easier said than done.