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Can't Concentrate? Here's How to Focus

COMPUTER GIRL

If you think the Internet is causing attention deficit disorder-like symptoms, you are not alone. 

One survey found that Americans waste about 20 percent of their time at work, and 35 percent of those surveyed said the web is the biggest distraction.

It’s becoming harder and harder to stay focused when you’re constantly being pinged by e-mails and instant messages, and lured by your friends’ Facebook updates, not to mention checking all those news e-mail digests from various news sites.

So hard, that many people who can’t stop darting back and forth from their work to the web assume they’re developing ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). The good news is that you’re probably not doing any permanent damage. There’s no evidence that Internet use causes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults. However, the Internet does tend to attract and hold the attention of people with ADHD, so if you’re truly feeling addicted to it, you may want to consider whether you have ADHD. About 90 percent of adults who have ADHD remain undiagnosed and treated.

“Also, realize that ADHD traits occur on a spectrum with ADHD just being the extreme disordered end of this continuum,” says Russell Barkley, a psychologist based in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. and author of Taking Charge of Adult ADHD. “So, some people may have ADHD symptoms but not enough to be a disorder, yet enough to adversely affect their work,” he says. While full ADHD affects about five percent of U.S. adults, another 10 percent could be borderline ADHD.

Whether you’re ADHD or just feel like you can’t concentrate well, here are some strategies that can help you stay focused:

Reduce distractions at your desk by turning off all e-mail and IM notification dings. You don’t only lose those few minutes it takes to read an e-mail or IM, but it breaks your concentration and may sabotage your ability to have deeper, more creative thoughts. Check e-mails at designated times, say two or three times a day, or if that seems too drastic, start by reducing to once an hour, rather than checking every 10 minutes. Time management pros check and respond to e-mails only twice a day.

Put your smart phone away and turn off notifications. Just because someone is texting you, doesn’t mean you have to respond right away. You have the right to manage your own time and talk to people when you’re free, rather than be at everyone’s beck and call. Otherwise, you can waste hours having mini and often meaningless conversations with people.

Quit web browsing at work. The average computer user checks 40 web sites a day and can switch programs 36 times an hour, according to Daniel Sieberg, author of The Digital Diet: The 4-Step Plan to Break Your Tech Addiction and Regain Balance in Your Life. You may be spending a lot more time than you think reading news briefs, checking Twitter updates and watching random viral videos.

Try a time management app. If just saying no doesn’t do the trick, you may need to physically limit your access to certain websites. Programs like Rescuetime.com track how much time you spend on the web, answering e-mails and instant messaging. The programs can also limit your time on certain websites, like Facebook, Twitter or whatever your go-to (too much) websites are.

Start your morning right away. It’s easy to waste a good half hour to an hour just catching up on morning e-mails and news websites. Instead, just start on your first task. Once you get rolling, it’s easier to keep the flow, but the longer you procrastinate, the harder it is to get started.

Stretch your legs. If you feel you need a mental break from work, take a physical break instead. Browse around the office rather than browsing the web. You’ll feel more invigorated after taking a brisk walk, you'll probably waste less time than you would if you were web surfing, and it gives your back, shoulders and eyes a break.

Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She blogs about the Affordable Care Act for the WellBeeFile. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.