Digital distraction is the result of living in a world where our phones light up and ding incessantly. With email and text messages, phone calls and social media alerts, it never seems to stop. There is an expectation that we can be reached anytime, day or night. And since we hate to fall short of expectations, or otherwise disappoint, we take action on the lights and dings. We respond to the email or text message, answer the phone call or acknowledge the social media post with a “like” or comment.
We have become quite literally addicted to our phones. The same dopamine-adrenaline loop that identified danger when we were a hunter-gatherer society, and congratulated us when we safely averted it, is being chemically triggered every time that phone lights up or dings. Our brains are conditioned to respond to novelty and to give us a jolt when we feel like we accomplished something – say responding to a text message or liking a Facebook post. This culture of constant connectivity takes a toll both professionally and personally. We waste time, attention and energy on relatively unimportant information and interactions, staying busy but producing little of value.
And like any other addiction, there is no simple solution to break it. Because let’s be honest, technology is here to stay. What we can do, however, is take back control with small steps. Here are five ways to start:
#1 LIMIT PUSH INFORMATION
Push information comes to us without our requesting it. These are the emails we never opted in to, the telemarking phone calls, etc. This is the category of technology that drives us crazy because we’re not in control of it and it’s constantly vying for our attention.
As much as possible, limit push information. Unsubscribe from email lists (Unroll.Me is a great way to do this), add phone numbers to the National Do Not Registry (donotcall.gov) and turn off all push notifications. This puts us back in the driver seat and turns push information into pull information, the information we choose to take in when we want to.
#2 SCHEDULE TECHNOLOGY BREAKS
It’s unrealistic to go an entire day without looking at our phone. Instead, schedule dedicated technology breaks on the calendar. It’s especially helpful to set an alarm at the beginning of the break and another one at the end of the break to separate this time from productive working appointments and help ensure that a 15-minutes break does not degenerate into 60-minutes.
#3 SET AND COMMUNICATE BOUNDARIES
Though we can’t make technology go away, we can choose how we use technology and communicate that to our colleagues and loved ones. One technique to use in doing this is to simplify decision making with the concept of meta decisions. These are umbrella-type decisions that impact all of the smaller decisions that come thereafter. Here are some examples of technological metadecisions:
- No phones at the dinner table.
- Unless it’s an emergency, I can be reached by phone between 11 am and noon or 3 pm and 4 pm.
- I respond to email at 10 am and 5 pm.
These decisions are only enforceable if they are communicated to the people that need to respect them – clients, colleagues, board members, etc. Reinforce them with actions and train others to respect them.
#4 ELIMINATE THE DISTRACTION
People who focus on one thing are not only going to get more done, but they’ll be less tired and less neurochemically depleted after doing it*. There’s no better way to focus on important work that needs to be done than by eliminating all distractions. Just like we close our office door or put up a “do not disturb” sign to tell others to leave us alone, shut down all technology during times that require focus. Put the phone in the hall and shut down email. Do whatever it takes to eliminate the potential for digital distraction when focus is necessary.
#5 RECHARGE IN ANOTHER ROOM
Remove the temptation all together, and sleep with the phone charging in a different room or ideally, on a completely different floor. Again like an addiction, our will power to resist technology is simply not great enough. So remove the source of the addiction entirely and see what a difference it makes when the phone is not the last thing we look at before closing our eyes at night and the first thing we look at when we open them in the morning.
Technology is here to stay. With these steps, we can take back some control over digital distraction and move our businesses and ourselves forward. Got other tips to defeat digital distraction to share? Please comment below.
* Daniel Levitin of The Organized Mind