This probably doesn’t come as any sort of a revelatory bit of information, but it’s hard to concentrate these days. There are more things than ever before that look to grab our attention, and we’ve become conditioned to give in to the impulse to shift our attention. It’s not so much that there’s more going on than that there are now the means for us to be instantly plugged into everything all the time, and it’s inarguable that it’s changing how we live and work.
Photo taken in Bangkok, Thailand
Take this article, for example: if you’re not pausing midway through to check your phone, you’re probably doing so shortly thereafter to see if there are any texts or alerts that have come through, or perhaps to mindlessly check social media or any other of the countless apps on your phone. This isn’t an anti-smartphone screed, mind you; it’s a wonder that we have such a device available to us in our pockets, and any negatives should be weighed against the myriad positives and benefits of a smartphone world. I would argue technology broadly is the main culprit in our attention deficit, though certainly, we as humans have found ways to distract ourselves across the centuries, and would continue to do so even if tech were to vanish tomorrow.
It’s hard to divorce yourself of what has become a habit or to lessen our reliance on something like a smartphone that has become such a valuable tool and constant companion. And our habit of inviting distractions or dividing our attention predates our phones or even the internet, convenient (and certainly culpable) targets though they may be. In dealing with distractions, it’s far easier to work with current proclivities and accommodate habits, while still trying to change your behaviors enough to cut down on your distracted time and working to build back concentration. Here are some suggestions on how to try and tackle the problem.
Allot yourself phone breaks. It’s well-established that people working at desk jobs should take a break periodically to get up and move around to try and stave off the ill effects of such a sedentary schedule. Likewise, you should allow yourself periodic opportunities to use your phone for personal, non-productive means; obviously, you might need to use it otherwise if your phone is your means of answering business texts or Slack messages. It’s probably too much to say that you should avoid any sort of social media throughout the workday because we all need to take a few moments to unwind, and like a severely restrictive diet, you’re setting yourself up to fail to meet the mark and feel bad for failing. You’re likely not going to be the person to break the addiction to smartphones, but you can seek to manage it.
Create private time for your work. We would be naive to think that in managing our smartphone time we’ve conquered the biggest obstacle to productivity. There are plenty of distractions that predate our devices, like calls and meetings and people popping into our office. Sure they may be necessary parts of our day and our job, but they’re distractions nonetheless. The temptation is to try and be everything to everyone at all times, always available to answer questions and offer decisions while still trying to accomplish our own tasks, all within the limited scope of working hours. The inclination from many is simply to expand the workday when really they should look to set aside time when they can work undisturbed. It might go against your instinct to always be connected and involved, but a few uninterrupted hours won’t do any harm and will, in fact, allow you to do more and better work. You can always catch up on what you missed afterward, and there are very few decisions that can’t wait a couple of hours.
Distractions are simply now a fact of our working lives despite our best efforts, should we even endeavor to undertake them. It does no good to decry these changes because we have no more hope of undoing them than we do of changing the direction of the sun in the sky. We needn’t embrace them necessarily, knowing what we do of the negative effects, but we can accept our new state of being for what it is and work within ourselves to try and limit our distractions while understanding that we’re never going to be able to rid ourselves of them entirely. #onwards.