Short answer: You Can’t. They are inherently distracting services, regardless of whether or not they are useful or relevant to you in a work capacity.
Exception to the above rule if you are one of the following:
- you are a full-time blogger – in this case, odds are being more exposed to “the noise” may actually help you.
- you are someone whose job does not depend on linear work – if you don’t spend hours at a time writing huge documents or lines of code or some other focused task, then you can probably tweet away. Odds are that you probably have a pretty cushy job too. 😉
- you are Robert Scoble – if you are Robert Scoble, then the normal rules simply do not apply.
For the rest of us, it’s noisy and distracting. And it doesn’t matter if you have notifiers on or off, because using either communication stream effectively requires participation. Sure, you can just read a series of streams, and that’s better than nothing, but not by much. Part of the point of it all is being engaged.
I think the best analogy I can come up with (and its a bit of a dramatic one, so take it with a grain of salt) is trying to do all your work in a Starbucks filled with friends, colleagues, and all of their friends and colleagues. And everyone is yelling, and there are no headphones available. And every now and then, someone yells something that you feel the need to respond to. So you do. By yelling.
The next-best solution? Wait for Twitter to be down. (ooh, cheap shot, I know!)
Okay, time for the “real” how-to. It’s a combo of the technology AND the mindset. It isn’t too hard, technically, but it may be a crazy strain on the brain.
- Tech: Turn down/off your notification settings (I recommend the same for email, btw). Anything that can pop up over your actual work should go away.
- Mind: When you are working on a serious project, close your tabs and anything else with Twitter/FF visible.
- Tech: Create a bookmark folder with FF, Summize, and Twitter all ready to go, so when you are done with work, you can quickly pick up what you missed.
- Mind: Don’t worry that you are missing something. Odds are really good you are not. Anything important will be there when you get back. I promise.
- Mind: Seriously, stop it! Close Twhirl and Twitterific, and leave it alone for a few. The world keeps on turnin whether or not you pay attention to it.
- Mind: Breathe… it’ll be okay.
- Mind: Remind your coworkers and colleagues that they can call you should something important come up.
- Tech: If you are working on something *really* important, turn off your ringer too.
Good luck to you. When in doubt, just remember: there was a world before FriendFeed, Twitter, Email, Cell Phones, and even Facebook (yes, it’s true). There were no tweets, pings, chatrooms, and ringtones. Nobody used to get sheep thrown at them nor did they have to decide between vampires and werewolves (vampires!). And Gary Coleman was once a star, dammit, a big star!