How is Digital Media Distracting You?


Are you living in a distracted world…you can’t image being anywhere where you can’t connect to the outside world via Internet, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? What about the constant texts, emails and phone conferences?

More and more people have become so addicted to their phones or electronic devices that they can’t imagine being without them for any length of time. We’re seeing more and more articles on the distractions of our mobile phones and how they are affecting children. But are they also affecting your ability to perform your best work?

People are addicted to social media. These tools which were developed to help make our life better, instead consistently disrupt us and fragment our time. They impact our ability to concentrate and dig deep into areas where we need to be more focused.

I’m was sitting at my dining room table reading a book for an article I wanted to write. I work from home so when I need to concentrate on something without interruption I will move to another part of my house to remove myself from my desk and especially my computer. I purposely have created work spaces in my home for this very purpose.

In this instance…my cell phone is in my office and my computer is an ear length away, so I can concentrate on what I am reading. This is a normal for me. I don’t sit at my desk for the entire 8-10-hour day. I frequently move around my house…from the couch, to my reading chair, or maybe even the new café table I have set up in my kitchen which looks over to Staten Island.

I have learned that in order for me to be productive I have to change my surroundings several times a day based on what I’m doing. Whether working on my computer at my desk, being creative to write, or carving space and time to read and learn. I know that to be productive to write or read I have to leave my electronic devices in my office. Walk away from them and make a conscious effort to leave them behind.

 But this day is different because my husband is home working and as I sat here trying to read I was in constant awe of how he gets anything done. Not from his lack of trying, but from the constant flow of interruptions and distractors he is barraged with all day long.

My husband is a consultant and takes long-term contracts as a Data Specialist. During his last two assignments, I have heard him complain about being a part of so many meetings a day that he doesn’t have time to actually work. The problem with big companies is they get so involved in meetings that they forget that people actually have to have quiet time to work.

He said to me this morning… ‘I’m working from home today, so I can get some things finished.’ And as I sat there at the dining room table trying to read I hear his email binging, his Skype alert going off and his text messages alarming off in the distance.

He’d been on three calls and it’s was only 12:30. He is connected in every way possible. From his phone to his PC…and now his new Apple Watch which he bought so he ‘could not be so attached to his phone.’

My husband writes code, works in SQL and FoxPro programs. He manages data, systems, and data projects in Jira. In most cases his work takes total concentration and focus.

He starts to stir around 2-3AM and heads to our home office to do his quiet work where he can go deeper without interruption. He then gets showered and heads to the office around 7:30AM…and I might see him back home around 5:30-6PM.

When I look at his work life…I know that something has to change. Not just for him, but within businesses in general. The need to be constantly connected has to change.

The very same technology that is supposed to help us get more accomplished is dulling our ability to perform, implement, and execute. Not that we don’t have the ability to do it…we don’t have the time, focus, or ability to concentrate for long periods of time.

We’re not choosing the right ways to use our time. And businesses are falling into this same trap with their employees. How productive do you think they are when they are constantly disrupted by emails, texts, and meeting requests?

An interesting article written by Tom Cochran in the Harvard Business review shared some interesting statistics on his company Atlantic Media. As the CTO, he became extremely interested in how much time people were spending on emails; simply reading and sending emails. His curiosity led him to the realization that his company was spending well over a million dollars a year for the staff to process emails.

Knowing that this is not what these people were hired for it was a staggering realization. If you owned that company what might your reaction be? What questions might you be asking?

Email is just another one of those distractors that many people can’t turn off or turn away from. They have to be active and constantly checking their messages. And many work environments encourage and expect that even when it’s not detrimental to the business.

Here’s one thing I know from experience…you can’t focus and produce your best work when constantly allowing yourself to be distracted in ways that don’t serve your purpose.

Allowing so many disruptions in my work day had prevented me from really doing what I love to do and what my business depends on to be successful. I thought I had to stay connected on social media and respond to emails as soon as they came in.

I never wanted anyone to wait on a response from me. I wanted to be super responsive! Well I was…to the point where it inhibited me from being able to spend quality time on the parts of my business that required brain power. Consistently being distracted left me unfocused and anxious much of the time. I found it more and more difficult to focus and produce my best work.

But things have changed…technology is no longer my best friend. She’s merely that co-worker I have the utmost respect for and work well with…but we don’t hang out together as much as we used too.

Over the last 6-8 months I have started reading again. Something I used to do all the time had become a chore…I would read but not really retain much that I read. I stopped reading because I thought my mind couldn’t retain information like it used.

I used to sit with my phone next to me as I read. I would allow multiple interruptions from Facebook or texts to disrupt my focus. I would disrupt creative thoughts while reading to post on Facebook. I mean…someone might need to hear what I had to say, right?

In hindsight, each time I broke my concentration to share something “important” I disrupted my learning process. My long-term focus and concentration was being impacted.

On my flight home from Tampa 2-weeks ago, instead of purchasing the Internet package so I could chat with my husband and work online, I pulled out my book and glasses and read. For over two and half hours I read…and consumed…and learned. No disruptions and no digital beeps or messages.

Here are a few of the practices I have put into place to allow my mind to start to concentrate on more important things in my personal life and get my mind back to deep periods of focus in my business:

  1. No more digital devices after my work day ends. I put my phone away and have turned off all my notifications except text on my Apple Watch.
    (I am the mother and grandmother and my kids talk to me a lot via text.)
  2. I have learned to turn my digital devices off or move away from them when working on projects that require deep thinking; allowing myself to concentrate and focus. I use Friday’s as my ‘Friday Planning Day’.

    It’s my day to work on my business; dig deep in writing or projects with no digital disruptions. I now make time for deep thinking and development and I do it free from as many distractions as possible.
  3. I welcome the feeling of boredom. In other words, I try to not fill every spare moment with the Internet. Sitting at a red light, waiting on someone, or standing in line. Instead of pulling my phone out I try to use the time to think about things…it’s during those down times our brain comes up with creative ways to make things happen.

Now that I am making conscious choices about how I spend my time I am slowly starting to find my focus and concentration again but know that it has taken me some time to get there. Understanding how and where I can cut online time and still maintain a profitable business and happy clients has taken some testing to find the right balance.

Is deep thinking important to you and your work? Do you feel like you can’t quite get to that place where you used to go…where all your creative ideas came from? Start paying attention to your digital habits and be honest with yourself about how much time you’re spending being distracted.