This is a guest post by one of the UK’s leading experts in digital distraction and digital detox and author of The Distraction Trap: How to Focus in a Digital World, Frances Booth. Find out more about Frances here.
How digitally distracted are you? Often we don’t realise how attached we’ve become to our smartphones, social media or email. But being distracted by a digital device all the time can have an impact on our productivity, wellbeing and relationships.
The first step to achieving balance in the digital world is to increase your awareness of your behaviour around digital devices. Here are five signs of digital distraction, along with five strategies you can use to increase your balance, productivity and wellbeing in the digital world.
1. Smartphone separation anxiety
You take your smartphone with you everywhere you go – often actually carrying it in your hand. As soon as your phone beeps, you leap. This is not prioritising. This is phone-in-hand syndrome. Your phone accompanies you everywhere, including to the dinner table and to bed. It muscles in on any conversation you have. It interrupts your thoughts, keeping you constantly ‘on call’.
The solution: Be realistic. It won’t be easy to suddenly go without your phone. You might find that as soon as your phone isn’t there, you need something to do with your hands. You might feel like something is missing (I see this in one-to-one sessions I run). It’s like giving up smoking, in a sense. Be aware of this. Try putting your phone in another room for just 15 minutes. Make sure you have something to do, like read a magazine. Hold something like a pen when you’re talking to someone. Next level: Go to the corner shop without your phone.
2. Journeys pass you by
What do you see on journeys? The light falling just so? Interesting happenings through the window? Or is your field of vision restricted to your smartphone screen? Journeys by bus or train provide a great opportunity for thinking time, or a short rest. They can be a chance to catch up mentally on the day so far, or to dream and plan. But all too often, we miss this chance. We begin our journey, and immediately stare down at a screen, processing yet more digital information. We arrive feeling rushed, and we’ve no idea what happened out of the window.
The solution: Become an observer
Try this exercise: Count ‘em. Next time you are on a train or bus, instead of staring at your phone or tablet, put it away. Start to observe other people. How many digitally distracted people can you spot? What do you notice about their behaviour? How do they look? Stressed? Absorbed? Can you spot pairs of people together who are both staring down at their phones? Sometimes it’s easier to observe behaviour in other people rather than ourselves. See what you can learn by doing this on just one journey.
3. Memory lapse
You blame your bad memory a lot these days. Or perhaps it’s not you, but other people you know who are using the excuse of their bad memory. Ask yourself whether this is really a memory issue, or whether you (or they) could be distracted. If you’re trying to pay attention to more than one thing at once, you might forget to reply to messages, and even forget the contents of the messages you’ve read. This is because you are not storing memories. I look at this in more depth in my book, The Distraction Trap: How to Focus in a Digital World.
The solution: Do one thing at once. It sounds simple, but we often don’t do this. Try it and see what a difference it makes to your memory, and to your productivity.
4. You can’t walk in a straight line
Do you use your smartphone when you walk along the street? Do you veer around the pavement as you look down at your phone? Do you stop and start, and even cross roads without looking up? Have you seen other people doing this? Digital distraction is extremely dangerous for pedestrians and drivers. Take this seriously. Put your phone away when you’re anywhere near a road. Never use your phone while driving.
The solution: This is an issue we really need to raise awareness of. Not only should you do this yourself, but you should tell other people to do the same too.
5. No time to think
A thought pops in to your head. This could be it … the answer to that thorny business problem you’ve been struggling with. Then – pling!!! – your phone demands your attention or an email pulls you off track. All too often, when we leap to answer to digital demands, we neglect time for deep thinking. Somehow, answering our email seems more urgent than just having a think. But if you (or your team) are short on good ideas right now, then the chances are, this could be why.
Do digital distractions mean you have no time left to think? (Photo: J Devaun)
The solution: Leave time for thinking. A simple way to take a first step here is by switching off digital devices when you are doing simple daily and weekly tasks round the house. Allow yourself to use this time for thinking.