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How to make social networks less distracting

Have you ever thought about how much time you spend each day on social networks? And I’m not talking about the time you spend each evening updating your Facebook profile or those witty “quotes of the day” you post each morning on Twitter. Rather, I’m talking about the time you waste reaching for your phone every time another notification comes though, or the hours you spend opening every social networking update  that arrives in your Inbox.

The truth is that you probably spend several hours a day reading notifications and clicking on e-mail links that do absolutely nothing but distract you from your real job. It used to be that liquid lunches were the biggest drain on office productivity but who needs alcohol when you have the drug of social media?

Fortunately there are ways to wean yourself off the constant urge to check your social networking updates, and it starts by turning off those constant notifications and e-mails. This way, you decide when to check your Facebook or Twitter account rather than have your smartphone decide for you.

Here are a few ways to cut down on the social media noise:

Free up your Inbox

Let’s start with Facebook and your overloaded e-mail Inbox. Open your Facebook account, click on the wheel in the top right-hand corner of any page, go to Account Settings and then click on Notifications on the left side of the page.

Unfortunately Facebook starts from the premise that you want to hear about absolutely everything that happens on the social network, no matter how tedious or trivial. Changing this is a two-step process. First, click on Email and choose the second option, which is Important notification about you or activity you've missed.

If you are really fanatical in your bid to be less distracted, then you can opt for Only notifications about your account, security and privacy but this is a little bit like going cold turkey and you may feel like your Facebook presence has been  removed entirely. In reality, most people will still want to receive notifications about themselves but pretty much every other type of notification can go.

The second step is to unsubscribe from all the notifications that you currently receive about yourself. There are approximately 20 different types of e-mail notifications - everything from friend confirmations to pokes to comments you're mentioned in. Each individual e-mail has an unsubscribe option at the end of the message. Unsubscribe from as many of them as you can. If you are particularly active on Facebook, then you may want to still see comments you're mentioned in, but the whole idea is to cut down on the constant traffic and leave these updates until you can log onto Facebook in your own time.  

Once you unsubscribe from a notification, it will appear on the unsubscribed list in the above Email Notification Settings and you can turn them back on at any time.

Wow – your incoming e-mail has just been cut in half!

Thankfully, eliminating e-mail notifications on Twitter is much easier. Open your Twitter account, click on the dropdown arrow in the top right-hand corner, go to Settings and then click on Email Notifications on the left-hand side. Here you will see numerous check boxes covering everything from notifications when you get a direct message to updates about Twitter products and services.

If you are serious about eliminating social media distractions, then uncheck them all. However, you might still want to receive notifications if you are looking for a specific Twitter reply or are sent a direct message. A better way to do this might be to open a custom app like TweetDeck or Hootsuite, where you can see updates at a glance. Remember to turn off the audio notifications though!

Silence that smartphone

After bringing your e-mail under control, the next step is to silence your smartphone or tablet. Fortunately, this is a little simpler than silencing e-mail.

For Facebook, click on the Text message in Notifications and you will see a number of different options. Again, for the stronger types, you can just turn text notifications off and your constantly buzzing smartphone will be a thing of the past.

If you can't quite bring yourself to do that, then there are various options to help you withdraw gradually. (In a very forward thinking move, Facebook has recently added the option of only receiving text notifications during certain time of the day. You can also opt to not receive texts when you are using Facebook; another smart move.)

For Twitter, there are similar options. Visit Settings, click on Mobile and you will be presented with a series of text options. Again, you can deactivate all texts, just choose to receive direct message texts, or turn off text notifications during certain hours.

By now a wonderful peace will have descended on your workspace and you will suddenly be more efficient, more focused and more productive. If you can persuade one or two colleagues to follow your lead, you may even be able to strike up a conversation! Remember, you can still access all your Facebook notifications by going to your Facebook home page; only now you read them when you want to, rather than when your e-mail or smartphone tells you to.

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