Digital technology puts information at your fingertips and keeps you connected with the rest of the world. But it also drains your productivity, distracts you from your highest priorities and slows progress on your major projects when it’s overused. It’s easier to update your Facebook page, watch YouTube videos, and check emails than do deep, creative work.
Here are 5 quick tips on dealing with digital distractions:
1. Get clear on what you really need to accomplish. If you neglect to design your day around your most important tasks, you’re more likely to seek the dopamine high that comes with consuming information online, posting on social media, and reacting to notifications on your phone.
Define which areas allow you to use your greatest strengths and tap into your key interests. Figure out where you derive the most long-term satisfaction and contribute the highest value. Curate the information you consume. Engage only with content that jives with your top areas of interest, and unsubscribe from content that doesn’t serve your highest priorities. By focusing on what really matters, you avoid going down the digital rabbit hole that leads you astray.
2. Put technology in its place. With digital devices, you can get turn-by-turn directions to where you need to go, send a quick message to a friend, and listen to a favorite podcast during your commute. These are great modern-day conveniences to have. Use technology to help you execute on your priorities, but don’t let it dictate where you place our attention.
Processing emails is rarely the most critical use of your time. Resist the urge to respond to or read every single one of them as they hit your inbox. Surfing the Internet and scrolling through news alerts on your break time feeds overwhelm and clogs up your headspace. Instead, take a walk, meditate, drink some water, or be with nature to truly decompress.
3. Turn off notifications. The pop-up messages and sound alerts you get each time a text, or email comes in is bound to distract you from your real work. Forget about checking it or replying to it within seconds or minutes. By end of day or next day is usually more than enough.
To reduce digital temptations when you need to be focusing on real work, remove automatic alerts and disable push notifications from social media. Try online filters and website blockers like FocusMe (paid service), Freedom (paid service) or StayFocused (free service for Google Chrome users).
4. Have specific time blocks to go digital. Be intentional about when you check your emails, watch online videos, scroll through web pages, and engage with social media. Make it as hard as possible to reach for your digital devices at any time of the day. Avoid them first thing after you wake up (when you ought to be gearing for your most significant projects), and right before bedtime (when you ought to be winding down and clearing your mind).
Before you start high-concentration work, close your web browsers and keep your smartphone out of sight – preferably in another room – with the Do Not Disturb mode on. (You can set it up so the most important calls still get through.)
Respond to emails and go online during chunks of predetermined time blocks on your own schedule. That way, you stay responsive and connected without being bombarded by digital distractions throughout the day. And carve out off-grid time, such as an entire Sunday, when you’re not responding to emails, surfing the Web, tweeting or retweeting, or liking posts on Facebook. Put away your digital device when you need to give undivided attention to the persons in front of you, such as when you’re having dinner with your family, meeting with a client, or engaging in conversation with a friend.
5. Track your technology use. Being aware of how and when you use your electronic devices is key to dealing with digital distractions. Do you know how much time you spend online in a given day? RescueTime and Toggl are among the time trackers available.
You might find that you are flooding your brain with useless trivia, fueling inner negativity by keeping up with the daily news, and wasting time on seemingly urgent things that are really non-essential. Perhaps you go digital to procrastinate because you don’t know where to begin with significant projects, or to alleviate boredom because you’re overqualified for your job. Or you might find that you use technology mostly as a tool to get important things done. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to do an audit of your technology use.
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Photo by: Phillip LeConte