Are Internet Idiots Annihilating Your Productivity?

image of cartoon from xkcd

It’s one of the hazards of spending social time online.

Every day, everywhere you look, you’re going to find someone who’s doing it wrong.

They use the term “rock star.” Or “ninja.” (You hate those hypey cliches!)

They have a pop-up on their blog. (Don’t they know pop-ups are the work of Satan?!)

They had a launch last week and emailed you three whole times. (Don’t these people realize how full your email box is?)

You ping around from site to site, getting increasingly crabby as the entire internet conspires to get on your last nerve.

I have a gentle suggestion.

It’s time to get over it.

The goldfish attention span

We all know it — distracted by the mashup of content and trivia and advertising that comes to us from all directions, our attention span has shriveled down to about 15 seconds. (That puts us on a par with goldfish. Way to go, human race.)

So to get your attention, particularly on the web, people do and say things that are outrageous.

We get posts about how content marketing is broken. Or social media marketing won’t ever work. Or that every time you try to sell something to a customer, a baby unicorn dies.

And it’s all very entertaining. As long as you understand it for what it is — a bit of linkbait to capture your attention for a minute and create a little controversy.

Now we like linkbait just fine at Copyblogger. And I’ve been known to make a few outrageous statements of my own.

But know them for what they are — distractions. And if you want to actually build something worthwhile, you need to be careful about how you manage distractions.

Drama queens rarely build thriving businesses

All the time you spend chasing down things you hate and ranting about them?

That’s time you’re not building something epic.

And being known as the person who pitches a fit three times a day is doing exactly nothing for your authority.

You may get a lot of attention for being so entertainingly easy to irritate. You may have a great sense of humor, and a fantastic turn of phrase. Your charmingly cranky video rants may get one billion hits on YouTube.

But attention is not business. And unless you’re as good a businessperson as Perez Hilton, becoming part of the Distraction Revolution is not likely to make you any money.

Do this instead

There are people who are going to tell you to turn off all distractions, refuse to use email, delegate social media to an $2-an-hour virtual assistant in Mongolia, and work in some kind of state of undistracted purity.

I don’t live in that world and neither do you. But you can actually take control of your time without turning into a digital puritan.

The first thing I want you to do (oh, this is so un-sexy) is decide what gets you closer to what you want.

  • Is it creating content for your autoresponder?
  • Working on the big product that kind of scares you?
  • Brainstorming headlines for your new landing page?
  • Actively promoting your webinar instead of hoping someone out there will tweet about it?
  • Writing a longer, more serious blog post that becomes a cornerstone for your site, instead of a half-dozen rants that take ten minutes to write and are about as quickly forgotten?

Here’s a hint about how to identify this: It won’t feel nearly as comfortable as bitching on Facebook about what’s getting on your nerves today.

The second thing I want you to do is to carve out an hour today (ideally, that starts right now. Don’t tell me you can’t — you were going to spend the next hour reading blog posts and twitter anyway) and work on the Big Uncomfortable Important Thing.

If you don’t have an hour, spend 20 minutes. And put an hour in your schedule for tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that.

Use a timer. Work up to the full hour if you have to.

Because Big Uncomfortable Important Things are uncomfortable, you will immediately be tempted to go complain about something on Google+. Therefore, you need to turn off your distractions of choice.

Not all day, don’t panic. Just for an hour.

(Yes, your mobile, too. If you are not a brain surgeon, they can wait for you for an hour. Tell them you were in the toilet.)

Work on something important for an hour every day, without distractions.

If you’re smart, you’ll make it the first hour, before the time vampires suck all the remaining life out of your day.

I realize this is not as much fun

Trust me, I enjoy griping on the internet at least as much as the next person. Probably more than the next person.

Let’s face it, those people are irritating.

But an hour a day, every day, in pursuit of what’s actually important to you (heck, you might even ramp up to two hours some day) is going to bring you a lot more reward than the smackdown you were in the middle of when you started reading this post.

Get it done. Start now. Believe it or not, it’s even more satisfying than being right.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. As long as you’re not complaining about anything, she’d love to hear from you on twitter.

Post image courtesy of the incredibly fabulous xkcd.

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Reader Comments (72)

  1. says

    There are many good ideas in here, Sonia! I will try your advice – carve out an hour today and work on the big uncomfortable important thing. (While I even don’t know what is that – exactly – just thinking)

  2. says

    Spot on. If we really want to be successful, we need to get rid of all the distractions and concentrate only on working . The problem is that it is very easy to get distracted on the Internet. Also, I think the sooner we do the important stuff in our day, the better. This is because our minds are fresh in the early hours which makes it easier to concentrate.

    • says

      “the sooner we do the important stuff in our day, the better” – this may be true for you, but everyone is different. I am far more effective in the afternoon and evening than in the morning. I talk to clients and run errands in the morning and do my ‘important’ stuff in the afternoon when my brain is in high gear. My point is that people should do the important stuff when they function the best, and not everyone is high functioning early in the morning.

  3. says

    True words of wisdom (are there false words of wisdom?). Also, that is my favorite XKCD cartoon ever.

    Apple didn’t become great by whining about how they didn’t like what Microsoft did or how they did it. They became great by doing great stuff and building great stuff. It’s fun to vent about pet peeves once in a while but unless you can do it with humor, it likely won’t be all that well received. Rants just don’t do much for anyone, including the ranter.

  4. says

    Wonderful advice Sonia. Don’t worry, I wasn’t annoyed by the barrage of Thanksgiving Sale emails that I got fro Copyblogger and Brian Gardner a couple days ago.

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

    • says

      If they only taught us this in school. . . .

      They say most of your education comes from outside of class. Copyblogger is the perfect example.

      It’s funny because I’m writing while I’m in class.

  5. says

    A baby unicorn? darn I thought it was a puppy or a kitten!

    Thanks for a thought provoking post Sonia. If all you do is whine on the internet that’s all you will be known for, I want to be know for better things, for striving towards lofty goals and learning and educating along the way. Truly, there is very little time to be a drama queen unless it’s very important to me.

    • says

      Adorable baby animal of your choice! I like fluffy white lambs, personally.

      And I am all for taking a stand at times, when you feel it’s important. But it gets so addictive, until we spend all day every day protesting … and no time building.

  6. says

    Great post on the dastardly power of distractions. I’ve had great luck over the years using a 48 minute focused time period and then taking a 12 minute break. Repeat as necessary. It has allowed me to write a book, train for a Triathlon, and really do some things that otherwise would have been impossible. I’ve always thought of distractions as email, web browsing, and phone calls, but you have opened my eyes to the power or rants.

    I put a short post together on my blog with a video that explains the power of the 48 minute system that your readers might find useful.

    • says

      Right around in that amount of time seems to be a sweet spot for many. I do 50/10. I remember one of the productivity dudes recommended 20/20, which seems a little paltry, but it’s better than the 2/58 most people are doing.

      Taking that break after the focus is a key part of it but didn’t seem to fit the post, I should do another one on that.

      • says

        The cool thing about 48 minutes is that it is divisible so many ways. This makes it easy to break a larger project down into smaller parts. Taking a break really helps with longer projects. It gives you time to check your e-mail, make a phone call or get a drink.

        I agree with you,Sonia. Shorter time periods don’t give you enough time to really get into a project.

  7. says

    Thank you, Sonia . . .

    I’m launching a new site in 31 days (actually, a merging of three different sites into one), so I KNOW what my Big Uncomfortable Important Thing is.

    Now, to go do it . . .

  8. Ron Brantley says

    Great post Sonia!

    I have found that using 60 Min. time blocks works well. 100% focus for
    60 or even 30 min. works great. You would be surprised what you can
    get done in those little bites of time.

    Like someone said… “If you want what you’ve never had, you must do
    what you’ve never done”


  9. says

    Brilliant. I will be sharing this with all of my friends and followers. Maybe if they hear someone besides me say it they’ll get motivated :-)
    Thanks again for some great points.

  10. says

    u know what my time waster was? Bitching about the yellow pages. Sounds silly huh? Why is it so much more fun to write about things you know and dislike vs know and like? Must be a mindset distraction?! Great advice as always Sonia. Kick my buddy Sean in the chin for me!

  11. says

    This post has a really humorous sparkle that I love, a real gentle nudge to direct our energies in worthwhile projects, one hour at a time! Fantastic!

  12. says

    Funny you’ve mentioned about popups as something evil; I hate it myself. I thought that people’s attention span on the Web lasts only for 5 seconds though ( perhaps, in my case ). I love the motivation on that last sentence, and a major thanks! Time to get things done now or probably, never…

  13. says

    I’m so polished at Big Uncomfortable Important Thing distraction techniques that it just makes me sick when I see posers trying to do it on FB, +, Twitter, etc. It takes a certain level of expertise that so many lack!

    Crap. Morons.

    I’ve just got to get back to ranting on other posts. I have a tab full up top…. 😉

    (So true Sonia. I too frequently and easily find myself blowing things off when a BUIT is looming. Great subheading: “Drama queens rarely build thriving businesses”)

  14. says

    If someone starting an online business started out by reading this post — they would be way ahead of the game! What has worked for me over the years is that I only trust those I know and know who I trust (Brian Gardner from his Revolution days which grew to be StudioPress and CopyBlogger are prime examples).

    Not sure who to give your valuable attention to? Look to folks like Sonia and Brian Clark who are established and have that trust factor and see who they watch and spend their time paying attention to. Trust me the rest can fall by the way side… You’ll be surprised how much time you recapture when you look at your time as a valuable asset that is not to be shared with just anyone. 😉

    • says

      Judith, I like that. “… not to be shared with just anyone.

      Recognizing that, first and foremost, you have value, and therefore so does your time, so as not to waste it on fruitless endeavors and meaningless “relationships.”

  15. says

    A practical tip: in addition to a timer get a surfboard leash. $10-15. Put that thing on your leg and chain yourself to your desk. No bathroom breaks, nothing till you do what you are meant to do. I used to do it till I’d internalized the work habits.

  16. says

    Geez Sonia, you’ve just totally destroyed all of my ‘reasons’ for not getting my new online course up and running! Took your Teaching Sells course (awesome!), got all motivated, started building out the product… but then I noticed all of these people online who really needed to be set straight and I headed off to save the unicorns. Darn – guess I’d better get pointed back in the right direction.

    Thanks for the kick in the pants I needed.

  17. says

    Brilliantly astute, as always. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve gradually come to the recognition (LOL) that the world is not mine to save from itself. And that trying to answer questions that others haven’t gotten round to asking yet doesn’t make them idiots…just on a different path than me.

  18. says

    Chuckle Chuckle “it’s even more satisfying than being right.” It seems to me too that when you create something worthwhile to your audience, that’s the same thing as being right. Good post! :)

  19. says

    Re: “Work on something important for an hour every day, without distractions.”

    I use a simple timer when I need to sit down and focus on something. I set it to 20-30 minute increments at a time when I’m writing something, or working on something. Funny how a little timer can make me so productive when I need to be.

  20. says

    Been reading a lot about this stuff lately and this article has some real action points that can help people reach their goals. I love this statement from the article ‘Here’s a hint about how to identify this: It won’t feel nearly as comfortable as bitching on Facebook about what’s getting on your nerves today.’ So simple, yet true to the very last word. Great article Sonia. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  21. says

    Another great message. I believe and all my experiences concur that when we focus we accomplish miracles but choosing what to focus on. Life is fun but so much choice that so many people are unable to focus.

  22. says

    I love it. A ranting post on the subject of not wasting time ranting. I especially liked all the really funny bits like the cartoon and “every time you try to sell something to a customer, a baby unicorn dies”. Hilarious!
    You make wasting time ranting and raving sound what it is – not only a waste of time but a stupid waste of time.

    My current BUIT is a huge ebook that I thought needed updating but it actually needs a whole rewrite. I’ve started but it’s hard. I’m constantly looking for distractions. I’m so desperate that even a pile of ironing looks more interesting than working these days (and I really, really hate ironing).

    But you’ve not only made me laugh, you’ve made me realise how much time I’m wasting and you’ve shown me a way to overcome it. Thanks. A really useful post.

  23. says

    Sonia, I hate it when people put random quotes on Twitter! I HATE it! I do NOT care what George Washington said about cutting down a tree, but, I just quoted you on Twitter.
    “All the time you spend chasing down things you hate and ranting about them? That’s time you’re not building something epic.”
    I really liked this point, super solid. Thanks for the great post!

  24. says

    Hi Sonia – this is such great advice – before starting on this online journey I’d never have believed how the web can just gobble up so much of your time – sometimes I don’t know where the hours go! Having a strategy to carve out some regular ‘production’ time is a great idea. Thank you!

  25. says

    I just want to say that you rock, Sonia. I absolutely love your posts and your voice. Now, I am going to stop wasting time and TRY to FIND my Big Uncomfortable! Thanks

    Any chance you could do a post about finding IT?? 😀 Keep up the great work!

  26. says

    Thanks for that much needed kick in the pants. My “Big Uncomfortable Important Thing” is building my email list. After reading Copyblogger all these years, I know how important that one thing can be to my business. So consider me motivated to get of my butt and get things done.

  27. says

    Hi Sonia,

    Wonderful article. I like how you coin it the Big Uncomfortable Important Thing.
    It is funny how we often complain about stuff not getting done when we are ourselves our own worse enemy.

    When I do my writing assignments I usually turn off my internet connection and use ommwriter to remove as much distractions as possibe.

    You 50/10 focus/rest routine is quite intriguing. I will check that out.

    P.S. I love the Copyblogger Radio program. I listen to it everytime I go out out for a drive or doing my cardio. It makes time pass and allows me to feel smarter everytime.

    Cheers and more power!

  28. says

    Sonia, you are right. We need to get on with what matters to our businesses and is important in our lives. We don’t need to waste time ranting, and I don’t unless I am being constructive in one of my customer service posts.

    But as you mention it, blog pop-ups are definitely the work of Satan. :)

  29. says

    “Actively promoting your webinar instead of hoping someone out there will tweet about it?”
    Ouch, Sonia, did you need to be so direct? :))

  30. says

    “carve out an hour today (ideally, that starts right now. Don’t tell me you can’t — you were going to spend the next hour reading blog posts and twitter anyway) and work on the Big Uncomfortable Important Thing”

    Sonia, you’re good. Afffff Maria, as we say in Brazil.

  31. says

    Thanks for pointing out that it will feel hard and it will be uncomfortable — I think people think it should be all happy thoughts and playing with the baby unicorns. :-)

  32. says

    I confess that I read the first few paragraphs of this post and then left reading it. Then I gave it a second though started reading from the middle and only then I understood the essence of this post.

    Keep writing on a regular basis Sonia. Really good post (after the first few paragraphs)

  33. says

    Sonia – thank you.
    I loved your post. I couldn’t do it straight away (had to make lunch – I really had to! Couldn’t avoid that one by pretending to be on the toilet) but as soon as I could, I started writing.
    Not the Big Uncomfortable Thing – which, by the way, I so identify with: I have one of those! But the Important Blog Post. You’ve inspired me to write it: the reason why I made my blog in the first place, the little things that annoy me about the industry I’m in, the list of bad things we need to put right. I’m going to love it. I’m going to pour my heart and soul out and it’s going to be a great read, a worthy blog post (and possibly afterwards, a well deserved week off…).
    I think I read half your post with one eye as my mind was going off on a tangent – and yes, the Big Uncomfortable Thing will get done. Christmas is a great deadline to have. But I’ve got my purpose / mojo back. You did that – thank you.
    Watch out, UK wedding industry. I’m coming atcha. Grr. 😉

  34. says

    Yep, that rule of carving out some time to work on your Big Project is paramount. Put the timer on and just do it. As a writer, I decided to participate in the NaNoWriMo this year. Guess what: it only gets better with practice! Right now, hitting that wordcount every single day seems so much easier!

  35. says

    Consistent action works for me. In fact, I find once I get the ball rolling, I’ll plow ahead for much longer than 1 hour. Some tasks I set out for myself appear daunting at first. Yes, I have a few important items on my to-do list that I’ve been procrastinating doing. But, I still get in several quality hours a day.

    Sometimes I think “what’s one more post going to do?” Then I remind myself that if I’d said that about every post, I wouldn’t have an online business or offline business (which I promote with a business blog).

    Identify important tasks and do them consistently. In time you’ll complete them. 5 days a week I strive to spend 2 to 3 hours first thing in the morning taking care of important tasks. Important tasks are those that acheive the best ROI.

  36. says

    this is so true about distractions. The best way I find is to do that something important or constructive, before even looking at my new emails each day. I do this all the time!!! well it sounds good and I find it does work, when I do it! Rachel

  37. says

    Very interesting and attention getting post. I liked the thought about the “Big Uncomfortable Important Thing”. I think I miss the mark on this a lot. Going to have to think about acting more on this idea.

  38. says

    Hi Sonia. Very funny post. You’ve got a gift for giving your readers a good-natured boot in the ass.
    I agree that our focus must be on building, not reacting.

    One thing though:

    The Big Uncomfortable Important Thing we’re avoiding is often best identified by listening to ourselves bitch and whine. These passionate reactions reveal truths about ourselves. These kernels of truth are who we are, and what we have to build with.

    But, you do have to get down to it.

    Anyway, thanks for another great post.


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