We love distraction, sadly, to our detriment

Don’t let technology hinder you from achieving your optimum

Google defines distraction as “a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else”, but more importantly as an “extreme agitation of the mind or emotions”. When it comes to technology and social media, this is a feeling many of us are familiar with and accustomed to.

Non-stop connectivity causes anxiety. Anxiety to see the latest snap or tweet, anxiety to reply to each iMessage as soon as it arrives and anxiety from article-hopping on news sites without thoughtfully digesting the content. The combination of connectivity and information overload is adversely impacting our ability to concentrate, reflect and produce at our optimum. And we love it because incessant content consumption makes us feel in-the-know, helps us avoid difficult thinking or challenging work, and makes us appear busy.

I learned more about this problem by reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. Deep Work, as Newport explains, is the ability to focus without distractions on a cognitively demanding task. This can comprise activities such as writing an article, reading intently, building an Excel model, or focusing on one task at a time. Information overload inhibits our ability to do so. As I reflected deeper, I realized I was a victim of constant connectivity and the anxiety it brought with it. I’m now trying to change my behavior so I can produce more meaningful work and feel intellectually and personally fulfilled to realize my true capability.

I’ve taken some steps to limit my temptation for distractions. Since I started actively trying to practice deep work, my productivity has increased — in and out of the office, giving me more time for fitness, cooking, reading and developing an overall sense of calm in my day. Here are easy steps I’d recommend:

  • Delete apps from your phone that you gravitate towards when you have a moment to spare (e.g. waiting for the bus). For me, these included social media apps and useless news apps.
  • Continue to stay on social media, but stay signed out of the accounts at all times. Sign-into them on desktop whenever you want and sign-out when done. This small layer of friction, of typing your password each time, will decrease your motivation to log-in.
  • Turn off notifications on your phone. I only get notifications for texts and incoming calls, which I’ve observed are most thoughtful or time-sensitive.
  • Remove chargers from your bedroom. All my devices are charged in the living room, making it impossible for me to reach for my phone first thing in the morning. And yes, I bought an alarm clock.
  • Curtail reading news to 1–2 high-quality sources. Most outlets publish repetitive news — we only need 1–2 sources to get facts. Pick which ones you like and don’t fall prey to bait and switch techniques online.
  • Set time at office every other day in 2-hour blocks to produce work. During this time, I ensure no meetings, no email, no web surfing and no phone usage. This has been a game changer.

These changes haven’t been easy for me — no change worth doing ever is. But I’ve already begun seeing benefits and I hope to continue making small lifestyle changes. I no longer feel the urge to escape to my social media feeds at a moment’s notice. Information overload is exhausting, meaningless and stressful. Replacing it with thoughtful thinking is joyful.

If you’ve tried any simple approaches to decrease distraction, send me an email at me@kksbedi.com. I’d love to learn of more changes I can make.

Further suggested reading: Deep Work by Cal Newport, his podcast interview at The Ezra Klein Show or his TED talk on social media.

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus. 
- Alexander Graham Bell