Digital technology was meant to make our lives easier, to make things better and improve our productivity. It’s supposed to save us time, yet we somehow waste more time than ever by getting lost in digital distractions and everything that technology has to offer.
Right now, my phone is in airplane mode, yet I find myself automatically reaching for it every couple of minutes. I know that none of my notifications will pop up, but I can’t help it.
I’m often not aware of just how easily I get distracted these days until it’s time to sit down and work or write. A 30-minute task can easily turn into a 1-hour task when you allow those distractions to pull you away from your work or chores… or even from getting some rest.
HOW TO OVERCOME DIGITAL DISTRACTIONS
DO NOT DISTURB
This is an obvious solution to a problem: putting your phone in the *do not disturb* mode. Or, better yet, turning it off- which I have to do all the time. When you’re working on something important or very involved and you’re really “in the zone” do you allow things like an email notification or a phone call distract you? It’s hard to snap back into that focus, once that initial distraction happens. It’s almost like taking yourself out of that moment, out of that place of focus and concentration, and landing at a slightly different place- that focus is often lost.
Of course, this doesn’t always work. I, for instance, take a lot of work-related phone calls at home, after hours, so I can’t always turn off my phone, but I do sometimes mute my email notifications. Unless I know I’m waiting for something urgent, I mute my phone notifications and check my emails only about 3 times a day. It doesn’t seem like a big change, although it does depend on the number of emails you receive. BUT imagine if you received 5 emails an hour, and answered them all right away, while also working on something important- you once again remove yourself from that place of focus.
I already mentioned this app in a few of my posts, but I still use it all the time. Forest is a great app to use if you find yourself being constantly distracted and reaching for your phone while working. Also, kind of cute solution to the problem: you set the time- let’s say 30 minutes- you plant a tree and put your phone down. During those 30 minutes, you cannot reach for your phone- otherwise, your tree will die. The key is to eventually build a forest, which gives you a sense of achievement. Think of it as a really adorable way to stay away from your phone. Seeing your tree wither and die away is a bummer, so it makes you think twice before reaching for your phone.
ABOUT THOSE BROWSER TABS
How many of them do you have opened at the moment? Sometimes it seems like there’s almost too much information available to us. I mean there’s no way we can absorb it all. This is something that I do all the time: find a couple of interesting articles, decide to read them at a later time; next thing I know, there are about 15 browser tabs opened because I never got a chance to read the first article, but also, in the meantime, I found another one I wanted to read. And another, and then another.
I’d lie if I said that this is something I don’t struggle with anymore. I do try to keep only about five of those tabs opened at a time and to actually close everything out when putting away my laptop. Not easy to do when you do most of your work from the computer, but totally possible. Another way I resist the urge to keep all these tabs open is to save the things I want to check out later in a separate bookmark folder or use a browser extension such as Pocket.
The sad thing is this: digital distractions don’t only pull you away from your work, but they can also affect your relationships with others. I can easily say that about 80% of my close friends/family have their faces buried in their phone for the majority of the time we spend together. Yes, there are brief moments of laughter and conversation, but as soon as that notification goes off, the connection is lost. Well… guess what happens next? It feels weird to be the only person sitting at a table actually looking up, so I reach for my phone. I sometimes feel like I have to compete for other people’s attention, which to me, someone who remembers dial-up internet, is still a very uncomfortable and annoying feeling.
The same can be said about answering emails or phone calls while you’re busy working on something else- even if it’s something as simple as working out or doing something just for yourself. Setting up boundaries is especially important if you have a lot of “needy” people in your life or if you’re just “that” person in your circle of friends, who everyone comes for advice or loves to vent to. Being that strong support for other people is important- but it’s also important to know where other people’s lives end and where your life begins.
The point is: we need to set boundaries. The key to this is to recognize those moments just as that digital distraction takes place. No digital devices at the table, no playing with your phone at bedtime, no answering phone calls during times of day you set away just for yourself. Once you are aware of those sudden urges to reach for your phone, try to put some space between those two moments (the moment between feeling the need to reach for your phone, and actually grabbing it) and resist the urge. Set boundaries for others, but also for yourself.
There’s no denying that digital technology has changed our lives for the better. I mean, hello, I’m living an introvert’s dream over here; I have my internets, I have my Netflix, and I don’t even need to leave the house to shop- I can do it right here from where I sit. At the same time, I sometimes think that somewhere along the way we’ve lost the sight of things that matter; it’s not to keep up with what everyone else is doing on Snapchat or Instagram, it’s staying present and making *real* memories.
I’ve lived with anxiety for many years and as a result, I loved surrounding myself with distractions. I hated being still, I couldn’t stand silence because that meant being alone with my anxious thoughts. I slept with my TV on, I turned the radio on as soon as I woke up. One morning years ago, I woke up before my alarm went off and stared at the ceiling before getting up. The house was so quiet, but I heard all these birds sing and chirp right outside our bedroom window. I opened the window and saw the sun rising and just couldn’t stop staring at it while smelling morning dew on the grass and listening to those birds. When my husband woke up, I asked him “are these birds always this loud?” he looked at me with a funny look on his face “yeah… what do you mean? They sing like this every morning.“
I never heard them before. So many years living in our house, and I never heard those birds sing like that every morning because I was always so distracted from the minute I opened my eyes. It was one of those moments that make you realize that those ordinary things can also be the most beautiful ones. To notice them though, you have to stop and pay attention to what’s around you.
Do you find yourself getting distracted easily? How many browser tabs do you have open right now?