Tame the technology with these 7 distraction-busting tips
We all know the frustration that is distraction. The annoyance of being deep in a task, working on a project, writing an email or finalising an assignment, when - DING! - a notification rings out. We may try to ignore it, but all too often that little red dot or flashing notification will eventually win out and we’ll just take a peek at our phone or our inbox, checking to see who it is and what they need.
Unfortunately, research now suggests that distraction is more than a mere annoyance. It could be costing us dearly in time, money and productivity, as well as having a lasting negative impact on our well being and stress levels. According to a 2013 study from the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University it may actually take up to 25 minutes to simply regain the focus we’d been enjoying up until the moment our devices pinged at us. 25 minutes.
The biggest culprit of modern distraction is undoubtedly technology. We are rarely without at least one device attached to our person, and when we sit down at our desk to work there are usually at least three vying for our attention, each with their own buzzing inboxes and notifications, each designed to maximise our interaction with them.
Instead of railing against all modern technology, it’s important to understand that along with the negatives come a huge range of positives. Yes, our phones may distract us, but they also connect us to friends, family and colleagues around the world. Yes, our inboxes may frustrate us with their incessant dings, but they also allow us to work remotely and communicate incredibly quickly.
The problem lies less with the technology itself, and more with how we use it. That is, instead of using our devices as the tools they are, we’re allowing ourselves to be used by the technology, effectively filling many of the gaps in our days with constant connection, leaving us tired, overwhelmed and at a loss of how to rein in the tech overwhelm. This is where developing effective boundaries come in.
Creating boundaries around the way we use our devices is one simple way of opening up more distraction-free space in our days. By becoming conscious of the impact of technology distraction and by using a combination of the following boundaries, I’ve been able to regain those 25 minutes of distracted time over and over again.
1. Switch off notifications and close your inbox.
Rather than being beholden to the buzz, ping and ring of your multiple devices, take back control of your time and choose when to dip in to your notifications. These nudges from our technology release little hits of dopamine to our brains (a neurotransmitter believed to be linked to mental arousal and curiosity) which can lead us to become addicted to the arousal a notification brings, or the endlessly exciting question of, “Who wants me? Is it exciting or important?” Usually, a notification is neither, and by choosing when to check your notifications you can wrestle back some of the control our devices have over our actions.
In regards to email, choose a few times throughout the day when you open your email account and actually answer any emails that require a response.
2. Set an alarm and switch off for half an hour.
Give yourself the gift of distraction-free time every day, and nominate two windows of time (try to aim for 30 minutes) where you turn off your phone, computer and tablet and do something not related to technology. If you’re at work that might be taking a phone-free walk on your lunch break, or planning out tomorrow’s to-do list. You could read a (real, physical!) book on your commute home or spend some time writing or working on a hobby.
It’s not only a good idea to switch your devices off, but consider putting them out of sight in a drawer or in your handbag. Sometimes out of sight is out of mind.
3. Give yourself physical boundaries on where you can and can’t use your technology.
Installing some simple, physical boundaries is a great way of reducing our tech’s grip on our time and attention.
For example, establish a no screens on the dining table rule, create a screen-free haven in your bedroom, don’t allow any devices at all in to your bedroom, and don’t allow yourself to keep your phone in your pocket while you move around the office.
You can even take it a step further and tether your tech to certain locations. We charge our phones on the kitchen bench and will usually keep them there even when they’re no longer charging. Forcing ourselves to use our phones while standing in the kitchen means we’re far less likely to get in to a procrasti-scrolling situation as opposed to when we’re laying on the lounge.
4. Give yourself screen-free time at night.
Set an alarm for one hour before bed and use it as a reminder to turn off all screens. Use that hour before bed to read, talk to your partner, housemate or kids, or have a shower, bath or cup of tea. You give your wired brain a chance to recognise that it’s actually night time, and have the added benefit of a little more down time too.
5. Keep the first hour of the day screen-free.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but giving your brain a chance to wake up and move through the early moments of your day before being hit full in the face with news headlines, status updates, emails and Instagram posts is a gift you won’t regret. After all, do you really need to know what new political scandal has hit overnight, before you’ve even had a cup of tea?
6. Go where the wifi is weak.
Take yourself away somewhere you know there’s no phone signal and revel in the quiet. Of course this may not apply during a busy work day or if you’re on call, but a few preparatory emails to colleagues or family should allow you a window of a few distraction-free hours, at the very least.
7. Go the distance and take a digital sabattical.
It might be a weekend or many months, depending on your circumstances, but giving yourself the gift of a few days peace is one that shouldn’t be underestimated. If a weekend away or a weeks-long break isn't on the cards, try switching your modem off for 24 hours and pay attention to just how often we reach for our phones, even in our downtime.
The truth is, we live in a distracted age. But by adopting some of these boundaries in our every day, we get to choose just how we deal with distraction and can re-gain some of that lost time. Now the question is, what do you want to do with it?
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