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October 19, 2017

Tips for Curbing Digital Distractions

I often feel overwhelmed and thrown off-track by the multitude of digital inputs that surround me.  Do you?  Yes, it’s great that technology and the Internet have put so much information at our fingertips. But at the same time, we’re faced with trying to manage a seemingly unlimited amount of potential digital distractions, which feel almost impossible to avoid.

When does digital content go from an asset to a “distraction”?…When it starts getting in the way of relationships, sleep, self-development, productivity or our performance at work.

How often have you fallen into a “digital content wormhole” where time seems to have disappeared or suddenly passed you by? Or, how recently have you settled into a “zombie scroll” where you mindlessly scroll through an online newsfeed without end? (just…can’t…stop…the scroll…ahhhh!)

The digital distractions are indeed plentiful, ranging from news and articles to social media posts, videos, TV shows, and films. Some sites that aggregate content, such as Reddit or Digg, can be even deeper “time suck vampires.”

What are some of the most negative effects of these digital distractions?

Increased Anxiety: How could you not feel anxiety if the majority of inputs and energy you receive in a day pertains to news of global turmoil, political feuding, violence, suffering and fear? It’s not that all digital content is focused on this, but a good bit of it is, especially these days. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t stay informed. However, there’s an important consideration of balance here. How much is too much, especially if it’s affecting your sense of inner peace? After all, your ability to be in a state of peace and happiness is what enables you to positively influence the world.

Less Focus in Thought: After spending time in a digital wormhole, I notice a frenzied sort of buzz happening in my head. Thoughts are jumbled, and it’s much harder to focus on a cohesive set of ideas. It’s then more difficult to get into action towards my goals or priorities with attention and present-moment awareness.

Disconnection: If you’ve got your head down and your eyes fixed on a digital device during most free moments (or even during a meeting…be honest!), you simply can’t connect with others. You may think you can multi-task, or that it’s not that big of a deal in the moment. But it adds up and results in less overall human connection – the kind that comes from eye contact, empathy, deep listening, and heart-to-heart synching. As a result, it’s a lot easier to feel isolated and withdrawn, which we know leads to other negative effects.

Rusty Interpersonal Skills: People skills are muscles that need constant usage, conditioning and stretching. The more you refrain from exercising human interaction and conversational skills, the more it will feel clunky or awkward the next time you try to use them.

Decreased Productivity: Because of the strong gravity of digital distractions (wait, where’d that hour go again?), it’s easy to be unproductive. Time slips away, and we lose a sense of what needs to be accomplished by when. Digital content is so readily accessed and on-demand that it’s a natural feeder of procrastination. Why would I conquer this tough or inconvenient task when it’s just so convenient to pick up my device and watch a funny cat video?

Lower Motivation: If you’re feeling distracted and unproductive, it’s really hard to want to do anything. This creates a problematic cycle that feeds on itself. The less you’ve accomplished, the more overwhelmed you get, and the less and less motivated you are to get into action.

If you’d like to work on curbing digital distractions, here are some things you can try:

  1. Remind Yourself of Priorities: Not everything can be important at the same time. Get clear about the top priorities and their significance in helping you achieve desired goals. If something is a priority, then it deserves time and attention. Think about how much time you’d like to ideally devote to your top 3-5 priorities.
  1. Increase Self-Awareness: You won’t be able to manage distractions more effectively unless you realize that you’re getting distracted in the moment. Practice an increased level of self-awareness by checking-in with yourself throughout the day. Or, do a reflection at the end of the day, looking back on when and where you got distracted. These observations will help you to be more attuned to potential distractions the next time they arise.
  1. Track Usage: A more detailed way to build awareness is to actually keep a running tally of how many times you get distracted per day, and for how long. You can turn this into a bit of a game by seeing whether you can reduce the numbers over time.
  1. Set Stated Limits: Get specific about how you’d like to limit yourself so you have a clear target. Otherwise, all you’ll have is a vague intention to be less distracted. What limits would you like to set around access to digital content? How much time do you want to hold yourself to? How many distractions per day would be acceptable to allow?
  1. Use Tech Against Tech: There are a number of apps that have been created to help users block certain social media sites or restrict access to Internet surfing, if even for a short period of time. Some examples include Moment (iOS), Offtime (iOS, Android), Space (iOS, Android) and Stay on Task (Android).
  1. Reduce Access Points: If digital content is staring you in the face at your every turn, you may want to consider getting rid of some of the access points. This could mean removing certain apps, disabling app notifications, canceling services like Netflix (if only for a month or two!), or getting rid of your TV or smart watch. These may feel like drastic measures, but sometimes it’s what’s needed to break you out of current behavioral patterns.
  1. Structure Your Schedule: One way to avoid distractions is to create a very structured schedule and work to stick to it. Budget time for each priority on your list. This will provide a roadmap, and will hopefully prevent you from unknowingly being pulled in the direction of a distraction.
  1. Make Time for Quiet: Taking even 5-10 minutes a day for quiet reflection or meditation can make a big difference in refocusing your mind and increasing concentration and awareness. Keep in mind that, like exercise, you can’t do it only once a week and expect results. Aim towards making time every day for quiet.

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