Technology gets smarter by the minute. Humans, not so much. While machine learning enables AI to help us automate laborious processes, the increasing amount of digital distraction seems to make us dumber.
A study by London’s Institute of Psychiatry revealed that persistent distractions by email and phone calls can cause as much as a 10-point drop in IQ.
Digital distractions make us lose focus — which impairs critical thinking and creativity. They also make us lose time — which impacts productivity. Unfortunately, the situation shows no signs of slowing down.
A 2018 survey by Asurion revealed that Americans check their mobile phones an average of 80 times per day!
How to execute amid endless distractions
An expert in psychology from Stanford believes that the ability to remain focused has become the single most important skill in the 21st century.
So how exactly do you stay focused in a world of diversions and short attention spans?
Unless you plan to go fully off-the-grid and ditch technology altogether, you’ll always be exposed to digital distractions.
Some of the biggest offenders when it comes to digital distraction includes:
- Social Media
- Mobile Apps
- Video Games
And even worse – these distractions will follow you everywhere you go: at home, at work, and at play.
There’s no escaping these distractions but you can take proactive measures to reduce them.
The key is to accept that they won’t be leaving any time soon. What matters more is how you respond to these distractions.
Here are some tips to help you stay focused and get things done regardless of the distractions that compete for your attention:
- Determine what your biggest sources of distraction are, and kill those first.
Make an honest self-assessment to determine the specific distractions that impede your productivity, and get rid of those immediately. Realize that while these gadgets or activities may be important, keeping your productivity high is much more crucial to your success and well-being.
Smartphones, email, messaging apps, and office meetings are some of the most common diversions that hinder the productivity of most people.
To manage emails, start by limiting both your subscriptions and the time spent for reading and responding to messages. Meanwhile, not all meetings are necessary. Politely decline meetings that lack clear agendas or purposes.
When it comes to phones for business, a desk phone can easily become a major source of distraction. If you’re using an old school phone system, you may not have much flexibility when it comes to disabling notifications, muting or routing certain types of calls, etc.
However, if you’re using a cloud communication system, you’ll be able to manage your call preferences from your control panel or desktop app. This is super convenient for eliminating distractions since you can enable do not disturb mode, mute call notifications, route incoming calls to a colleague and have voicemails transcribed to text and emailed to you directly. This allows you to remain focused on work, while you can reply to any missed messages later on.
If you’re using a cellphone, it’s very simple to turn off phone notifications or enable airplane mode. You should also uninstall apps you don’t really need. However, most people don’t have the discipline to do so, and that’s the problem.
2. Use plain old pen and paper.
One way to manage digital distractions is to curb your dependence on distracting gadgets and apps. Going “old school” may be able to help fight this.
When you need to take notes for example, consider using plain old pen and paper. Better yet, get yourself a good notebook so you can record your thoughts, write drafts, or make plans.
Note that keeping a diary or a journal can improve your writing skills, inspire creativity, and reduce stress.
3. Use app blockers to fight unhealthy tech habits.
Ironically, there are digital cures for digital maladies. Most are productivity apps that keep you focused on what matters. Some of these apps block certain kinds of websites while others help you manage your time better.
Here are a few of my favorites to try:
Check them out and pick the one that complements your daily workflow.
4. Adopt a productivity technique.
Proactive routines, habits, and activities definitely help. Go for solutions that are simple but effective. For example, many people use the Pomodoro technique to ensure that they remain optimally productive throughout the day. This technique involves a continuous cycle of uninterrupted productivity (25 minutes) and flexible breaks (5 minutes).
Meanwhile, mindfulness and meditation can help you improve focus, reduce stress, and keep the brain young. The two-minute rule is also an effective way to finish minor tasks and keep your workflow unclogged. This rule recommends that you complete a task immediately if it only takes less than two minutes to do so.
5. Beware of multitasking.
Gone are the days when a professional would feel proud describing herself as a “multitasker.” Trying to do everything at once simply doesn’t work. At the end of the day, multitasking is just a myth and you just lose focus when you take a shot at it. Remember, it’s always better to do things with as much focus and attention that they deserve.
6. Create and stick to a daily schedule.
Keeping a calendar and closely tracking your schedule helps build discipline. It also clarifies your priorities, helps you meet deadlines, and develops strategic thinking skills. Be sure to include some form of exercise and a session of meditation in your schedule.
7. Take periodic breaks and reward yourself.
You’re not a robot. Which means you have the capacity to feel good about yourself, about others, and about the world in general. So reward yourself each time you’ve successfully kept distractions at bay to complete an important task. Ultimately, it’s about doing what works best for you.
A short break and a cup of coffee won’t hurt. Given the right variety, it might even taste pretty good. But more importantly, caffeine can help improve focus and keep you alert. Meanwhile, a leisurely stroll in the park is a healthy reward to look forward to.
Modern life won’t be complete without the technologies that connect, help, entertain, and distract us. Living amid these technologies can be a challenge but you should always find the right balance to stay productive and happy. Remember, staying focused is the best way to get things done in this day and age.