Focusing at Your Computer

How to stay focused when you’re at your computer.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #76

Today's topic is how to focus at your computer. The quick and dirty tip is to plan ahead and don’t multitask!

Previously on Get-It-Done Guy, I covered dealing with distractions.  But I’ve received several listener questions looking for more specific advice about how to stay focused at your computer. Harold, Heather, Devin, Coragyn, and Alejandra to name a few. Harold put it best:

I have a staggering amount of work that needs to be done at my computer. I often find myself with a few minutes to spare, and I gravitate toward my computer since I have so much work to do there. But then I sit down, check my e-mail, check a few websites that I check regularly, and then before I get any real work done I'm out of time.

The computer is the most complex device ever made. Isn’t that impressive? It’s a camera! No, it’s a stereo! No, it’s a game! No, it’s a typewriter! A calculator! A newspaper! A TV! It’s … my friend. We talk, we play together. I don’t need anyone else in the whole wide world.

And that is precisely the problem. The computer comes chock full of its very own distractions. And it entices us to lose the separation between work and play. It’s a giant mashup of everything. Kind of like all-in-one baby food for adults.

Separation Decreased Distraction

When tools were separate, we had to move from task to task physically. Listeners under 25 won’t believe this, but it’s true. To type a paper, we pulled our chair over to a thing called a “typewriter.” When we typed a wrong letter, we went to the supply desk, get out a little bottle of white paint called “correction fluid,” and deleted the letter by painting over it by hand. Then we’d blow on it and wait for it to dry. Spell-check was handled by a dictionary, (a book made out of paper) which sat five feet away on our bookshelf.

To talk to a friend, didn’t have “cell” phones, we had “tele” phones, and they were connected to the wall by a wire. We had to move to the “tele” phone and talk there. We sent messages by “mail” (no “e”), and paid 39 cents apiece to send them. They would arrive two days later. Our TV was in the next room, and so was the newspaper. You get the idea. This was pre-history, say, 1995.

Since tasks got done in different separate places, moving between tasks made us move physically. Not only was this a handy way to burn calories (we all looked like Greek Gods and Goddesses back in the good old days), but it made it expensive to switch activities. When distracting yourself takes more work than staying on task, the lazy path is to focus.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.