Strategies for staying on track at work through micro-interruptions
April 11, 2019 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I work in digital marketing and unfortunately, my current work computer is just NOT up to the task—it is often laggy and freezes up regularly. When my computer starts acting up, my attention tends to move onto other things and it can take me awhile to get back to the initial (and usually more important) task. Normally I can deal with this, but April is a busy month, and I've got a lot of deadlines looming. Any tips or tricks for ways to keep focused on the big picture when your own computer is working against you?

Digital marketing/social media/community management is a many-headed hydra where there is always something you are neglecting to do by choosing to work on something else—every day is relentless triage between short- and long-term projects. Also, I have diagnosed attention/focus issues, for which I am being treated.

I mention these things because I do think that overwhelm is also a factor in my avoidance/procrastination when it comes to getting back on track on important or higher profile projects. So strategies for dealing with being totally swamped all the time are also welcome!

Also: good news is that I'm apparently on the list for a computer/OS upgrade. Yippee! Bad news is, despite multiple members of our IT department expressing pure astonishment at how achingly slow my computer is, the upgrades are still pending. When I ask when, they just say "soon." My assumption is that my upgrade will not arrive in time to help me deal with these looming deadlines.
posted by helloimjennsco to Work & Money (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If your Windows computer has 4gb RAM, fairly typical, bump it up to 8. This is affordable and pretty easy, and would make life so much easier.

Meanwhile, you can do email on your phone, update your to-do list on keep or evernote, get up and stretch.
posted by theora55 at 8:11 AM on April 11, 2019

Best answer: Are you able to listen to music at work? Playing it helps with my ADD (it gives my “off track” attention span something to engage with so it’s not trying to meddle with my “on track” attention span). You can just jam out to whatever is playing while waiting for your computer to function.
posted by sallybrown at 8:13 AM on April 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Have you made your supervisor aware of your slow computer and its affect on your work performance yet? If you haven't, you should. Perhaps your supervisor can make a new computer more of a priority. Also, it's best to get this issue out in the open now, rather than retroactively blaming a slow computer when your performance review comes around.

As for strategies for staying on track, I find that keeping a to-do list handy is good for me. I also try to make a habit of "checking in" with myself every 20 minutes or so. "What am I doing right now? What am I supposed to be doing? Why aren't I doing it?" Keeping a tally of how many times you're waiting for your computer to unfreeze might also be a valuable documentation for higher-ups on how important getting a new computer is.
posted by cleverevans at 8:25 AM on April 11, 2019 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I have a cheap little kitchen timer set to 5 minutes, which goes back to 5 after it beeps or is stopped, and when I know one of those waiting distractions is happening I hit the start button so at best I only drift off for 5 minutes.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:53 AM on April 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

When I had a slow computer and it was working on something / lagging - instead of trying to write a quick email or going to a website or doing something else actually on the computer - I would read a book for 3 min or whatever. Or I'd walk around for a minute, or doodle, or get some water...

This helped because my attention stayed high-level on the initial task, but it gave me something small to do while I waited. It was also a little relaxing. Instead of adding more chaos and switching around to the day, it added little bits of relaxation.

It's very difficult for me to multitask and switch back and forth between tasks - it's like I have to re-initializing my attention each time (and I don't generally have attention issues). So I wonder if trying to do something offline while you wait might be more effective in the long run.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 9:34 AM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Facebook and the new gmail are big resource hogs nowadays. Youve probably already tried this, but if you can avoid having gmail open in a tab, you might experience computer performance improvement. There is a chrome extension called tab suspender (if im remembering the name right) that will temporarily suspend it as well, if that helps. If you rely on gchat it is still possible to use a stand alone messaging client like Pidgeon to use the gchat service without having to run it in your browser. Wish i had a similar option for facebook messenger to rec but .. I dont. Thank heavens my work does not rely on facebook , it has become so miserable to load facebopk stuff i have taken to avoiding it.

I also wonder if some of the lag could be your connection? But again you've probably already been down these roads ..

Seconding ram upgrade, if youre not already maxed out, that'd take you or IT about 5 minutes to do.
posted by elgee at 10:01 AM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

you can use a usb drive as a paging file. That can help.

But, long term, I've had these problems before. No, they won't upgrade your computer. I've found podcasts can help with those distracting moments.
posted by bbqturtle at 12:11 PM on April 11, 2019

Clean off your desk or review your To Do list while you're waiting for the document to load.
posted by salvia at 2:02 PM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a notebook or a piece of paper always in front of me, between my keyboard and my monitor. I use it to write down the task I'm currently working on. Just one task. When I finish it, I cross it off and write down the next task. When I inevitably get lost in the interwebs, one glance down from the screen is enough to get me back to my task.
posted by gakiko at 2:27 PM on April 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I once had to use a computer that would periodically freeze for 45 seconds or more, long enough make me often forget what I was working on. Like @gakiko, I kept some paper nearby, but I wrote down exactly what my next move was going to be, and maybe next steps after that, and maybe elaborating sub-tasks, and other aspects of the task, future concerns, possible alternatives, questions for the client, other team members, or mgmt. I often filled a page or three quite quickly. It was, in some ways, a nice way to work. Had some unexpected benefits, such as letting me catch errors early, before the client did.

You could also see if you have enough free disk space. Is it a Windows box? You could also download Microsoft SysInternals Autoruns and turn off all the little processes that run in the background; stuff like software that checks for updates for itself. You can turn it back on once a month or so. Are you good with anti-virus, anti-malware?
posted by at at 2:56 PM on April 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Is there someone else you can ask about the computer thing? Anyone you can bribe?
posted by oceanjesse at 5:19 PM on April 11, 2019

Best answer: I work remotely, but maybe you can work out something with headphones if you're in an office -- I keep Netflix or a podcast on at all times while I'm working. I just sit and wait for the thing to load, or process, or whatever. I don't change tabs or shift to another program. Switching derails me. Huge Google Drive and Excel files are my current banes of existence, and after reading a study that says most full time employees only do about 2 hours of productive work a day I am not longer fussed about this.
posted by ananci at 8:41 PM on April 11, 2019

I have a chromebook I have set up next to my desktop and I switch between them when one gets slowed down. Works pretty good.
posted by Toddles at 10:49 PM on April 11, 2019

« Older Your tips for managing my finances?   |   Your Dueling Piano Bar Experiences - players and... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.