In our busy and hectic lives, the ability to focus has become more important than ever.
Harnessing our attention requires minimizing distraction. And for all of the benefits and efficiencies modern technology brings, digital tools have also become some of our biggest distractions. These distractions fill our days and make us feel busy, but busyness and productivity are two different things.
As #1 New York Times best-selling author Tom Rath says, "Staying connected is now remarkably easy. As a result, getting anything of substance done is not."
In Rath's book, Are You Fully Charged?, he notes that people unlock their cell phones an average of 110 times per day, including 9 times per hour during peak evening hours. He reports that workers sitting in front of a computer screen are interrupted at least every 3 minutes, and forfeit 28% of each day to distraction. In fact, only 1 in 5 people say they have the ability to focus on one thing at a time at work.
So how can we take control over our devices and tune in to our own minds? Here are some recommended strategies:
- Do not check email first thing in the morning or last thing at night. This approach is championed by Tim Ferriss, who says that email first thing derails your priorities for the day and email right before sleeping gives you insomnia. Putting this into practice has been a life-changer for me.
- Finish the most important item on your to-do list in the morning before checking email, social media, or responding to phone calls.
- Shut off instant alerts and notifications when you are trying to focus (phone ringer, email notifications, social media alerts, push notifications, etc.). Consider an internet blocker if you are really struggling with procrastination.
- Set specific times to check social media, email, and phone calls.
- Shut off all electronic devices (TV, Phone, Computer, Tablet, etc.) 1 hour before bedtime for a better night sleep and to be more productive the next day. A great use of this time before bed is to read a real book.
- Only use your phone when you're alone. Put your phone away when you are spending time with another person. You made a choice to be with that person, so give him or her your full attention and watch your relationship improve. Phone time and meal time definitely do not go together.
- Consider going completely phone-free for one full day each weekend.
What all of these tactics really do is help us to focus on one thing at a time. It turns out that "single-tasking" is actually the best way to get important things done. As Dr. Mike Dow, psychotherapist and best-selling author of The Brain-Fog Fix, says, "Mindfulness - doing one thing at a time and paying attention while doing it -- is a powerful antidote to the barrage of distractions that come at us day and night." Giving our attention only to the task at hand enables us to accomplish more while feeling less anxious and less scatterbrained.
Digital interruptions are more prevalent and persistent than ever before.
Those who have the ability to tune out the distractions and tune into themselves will truly be set apart from the rest.