6 simple steps to help you minimize cyberloafing.
You probably need to reshape your browse.
Many of us are online for work all day – but indulging in too much personal internet use, like going down the Instagram or Amazon rabbithole for too long, which can wreck your career trajectory. It can even turn you into a jerk.
A recent study published in The Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace found that “cyberloafing” – or using the internet for non-work related purposes – has “a substantial impact” on productivity. Reading news and shopping online during work hours were the two greatest digital distractions. And worse, the workers guiltiest of goofing off online were linked with higher levels of narcissism, manipulativeness and self-interest.
So how big is this problem? About 14% of employee time is spent cyberloafing, according to a University of Texas at San Antonio study. That’s 67 minutes – more than an hour – during an eight-hour shift. And each time an employee gets sidetracked reading personal email or scrolling through social media, it takes another 23 minutes to get back on track.
That’s a lot of lost time that you could be using to get ahead – or at least stay on top of what you’re already supposed to be doing. “Cyberloafing too much could definitely cost you a promotion, as well as reduce the quality of your work, especially if you’re leveraging it as a procrastination tool,” Monster.com career expert Vicki Salemi told Moneyish. “You’re not completely focused on your job. Your work may continue to slide as you lose track of time ‘liking’ various photos on Instagram and making a quick purchase of food for your pets online. Your head needs to stay in the game.”
Plus, it’s easy to see who’s on task and who’s on Facebook in a communal workspace. “Your colleague in the next desk from you, who’s churning out work like it’s nobody’s business? Yeah, the next time there’s a possibility for a promotion, think [between you and them] who deserves that promotion,” she added.
And it hurts businesses, too, as the unwarranted web use slows down networks or exposes company systems to computer viruses. One firm calculated that basketball fans cost their companies $2.1 billion in lost productivity during March Madness alone as they obsess over their brackets.
The problem is, the line between work and home continues to blur. Many employees are on email 24/7 and take care of business at home, which means they need to also take care of some personal matters at work.
“Everyone does it once in awhile. It’s human nature,” psychologist Dr. Neil Bernstein told Moneyish. “But you can always set some rules for yourself to find a way to operate that works for you. It’s really about mindfulness, and staying in the present moment, and recognizing what you are doing when you go online.”
Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, shared some tips with Moneyish on how to screen yourself.
Take stock. “Ask yourself to what degree is going online interfering with your work,” said Dr. Bernstein. Do you just occasionally catch your mind and your mouse wandering, or are you falling behind on work and missing deadlines because you can’t control your Facebook compulsion? And has your supervisor called you out on cyberloafing already, and how often?
Keep a cyberlog. Write down what apps you’re running and what pages you’re visiting, how long you used them, what you used them for, and how you felt. “This kind of monitoring is extremely valuable to give you an accurate view of how you’re spending your time,” said Dr. Rutledge. “People are extraordinarily inaccurate in judging their behavior, particularly when it surrounds something they want to change, such as exercise, diet, shopping (especially the one-click kind) or social media use.”
Decide what’s good and what’s bad. Dr. Rutledge suggests identifying what your goals are – do you want to respond to every single one of your work emails, or stay informed by reading the news? “Not all online behaviors are negative. They can be very positive when the use is balanced,” she said. “Once you identify your goals, you can go back through your log and determine which of your online behaviors are supporting it.”
Set a timer. Taking period short breaks – such as watching cat videos or reading what’s trending on Twitter – can boost productivity in the long run. But set a timer on your watch or phone for 10 minutes, or however long your break is, to ensure you don’t lose track of time and end up reading “Game of Thrones” theories for half an hour.
Treat yourself. Keep a jar on your desk, and fill it with pennies or paperclips every time you go an hour without checking personal email or Facebook, and redeem those for a reward at the end of the day or week. And punish yourself if you don’t. “Set limits like, I won’t go out to lunch today if I catch myself wasting an hour cyberloafing,” said Dr. Bernstein.
Block yourself. Sign up for anti-distraction services such as Anti-Social, Freedom, StayFocused and SelfControl, which you can customize to block you from the sites that waste most of your time. When the test subjects at the University of Texas at San Antonio study agreed to cut off the internet during work hours, for instance, those who had been cyberloafing before increased their productivity by 38%.
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