Limit Digital Distractions to Promote Productivity

Limit Digital Distractions to Promote Productivity
Thrive Global, Amy Blankson

October 24, 2017

Did you know that the average attention span of a human has officially dropped below that of a goldfish? Yes, the frequently mocked unintelligent goldfish has an attention span of a brief nine-seconds, while ours now averages at an even briefer, eight. Admittedly this is a shocking (and slightly depressing) statistic, but why does it matter in the grand scheme of things?

In short, distraction has become an epidemic in the digital era that we live in today. Distraction frequently robs us of our focus, decreases our productivity, and can even determine whether we succeed or fail at work.

According to Cyrus Foroughi, a doctoral student at George Mason University one minute of distraction is more than enough to wipe your short-term memory. An interruption as short as 2.8 seconds (the length of time it takes to read a short text message) can double error rates on simple sequencing tasks and a 4.4-second interruption can triple error rates. Linda Stone, a software executive who has worked for both Apple and Microsoft, explains that we are so busy keeping tabs on everything that we never focus on anything, a phenomenon she calls “continuous partial attention.”

A recent survey of smartphone users found that:

• 67 percent of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls—even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating

• 44 percent of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night

• 55 percent of workers reported checking their email after 11 PM.

As New York Times Magazine’s Clive Thompson writes, “Information is no longer a scarce resource—attention is.” In this Digital Era where work/home/play are blended together, we may not always have a choice about our work schedules or our work priorities; however, there are powerful things that we can do to regain a sense of control about our happiness at work.

5 Happy Hacks to Get You Started:

1. Unplug Strategically. As an increasing number of employers expect us to be plugged in via email or phone 24/7, we’ve become perpetually tethered to our phones. Aside from the obvious invasion of personal time that the modern 24-hour employee experiences, the constant barrage of communication can actually be counterproductive as well.

Studies have found that stepping away from technology, even briefly, can increase your focus, leading to a 57 percent increase in more effective collaboration, an 88 percent increase in learning effectiveness, and a 42 percent increase in socializing effectiveness. Since many of us can’t completely step away from technology, consider taking smaller steps to limit technology overload such as checking your email less frequently. A recent study found that individuals who limited their frequency of checking email to three times a day experienced significantly lower daily stress.

2. Know Your Numbers. The average person checks their phone 150 times every day. This means if every distraction took a single minute (a seriously optimistic estimate), that would account for 2.5 hours of distraction every single day. That’s 912.5 hours a year, or roughly thirty-eight days each year!

Knowledge is Power, which means knowing exactly how much time you currently spend using technology is the key to limiting your future use. Download the Unplugged app to see how many times you turn on your phone each day and how you are utilizing your time. The data may surprise you and encourage you to make better choices about your time with technology.

 

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