Expert Offers Advice on How to Avoid Being Distracted by Social Media

By Victoria Kim 06/19/15

Researchers found that the human brain is compelled to check Facebook every 31 seconds.

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How long can you concentrate on a task before you’re on another website, checking your phone or social media? The brain is actually compelled to check Facebook every 31 seconds—which means that the average attention span is shorter than the five-minute window of concentration previous research had estimated, according to Michael Hollauf, the co-founder of MindMeister, an online “mind-mapping” tool, and MeisterTask, a task management tool.

Researchers who installed “task trackers” on university computers to get an unfiltered view of how students utilized their time were able to illustrate patterns of computer activity that showed that social media, particularly Facebook, was a major distraction for the students, says Hollauf. The researchers said that Facebook is a key contributor to “task switching” and “multitasking behavior,” and that on average, students concentrate on a task for about 31 seconds before they’re distracted again.

“New notifications or the latest content on your newsfeed acts as a reward,” said Julia Hormes, the lead author of a 2014 study on the social media habits of University of Albany students. “Not being able to predict when new content is posted encourages us to check back frequently.”

The study concluded that people who frequent social media sites may be more prone to substance abuse because of the way they respond to the “rewards” presented by social media.

Hollauf, who is developing an app to keep people on task, offered some advice on how to stay focused and stave off the persistent urge to pick up your phone or look for that tiny red or orange flag notification on Facebook and Instagram. Here are a few pieces of advice from Hollauf:

  1. Find something interesting about the task you’re trying to focus on. “Finding something engaging in your work is a good way to prevent yourself from switching to other, easier stuff, like mindlessly scrolling through three weeks’ worth of Instagram pictures,” Hollauf says.
  2. Start working on tasks that are priorities to avoid being distracted. Hollauf says, “we will be less likely to stop working on a priority” and succumb to distraction if it’s already been started.
  3. Disable distracting notifications, especially ones that make a “ping, ding, or chirp” sound. According to Hollauf, hearing app notifications “add another 12% to the chance you will switch tasks.”
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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr