A 5 minute read on the dangers of digital distraction to work performance and general wellbeing and some strategies to help you separate yourself from digital reliance.
Efficiency and Productivity Guaranteed
My phone is always on silent, with notifications turned off. Additionally, to write this article, I have put it in a different area of my office and even considered putting it on airplane mode. I concluded that wasn’t necessary for today’s purposes, but it is important for me to be fully focused on what I write to be as efficient and as productive as possible.
I do this sense check before I work, whatever task I’m attending to, to ensure I can avoid the dreaded digital distraction: that sense of having loads to do but constantly getting pulled in every direction and, in the end, getting very little of anything done at all.
Addressing Problematic Usage
And yet, I’ve had clients admitting problematic mobile phone usage bordering on levels of addiction, particularly in one instance when it came to Whatsapp. This particular woman in law enlisted the help of a friend to deal with it. The solution? To pop her phone away in a locked box at certain times during the working day to avoid over-use. Clearly, this is an extreme example, and certainly not always practical, perhaps for care-givers who need to be contactable at short notice on their phones in case of an emergency.
At Home or Away
But similar challenges present beyond work – during much needed downtime, the exact point at which there is imperative to increase relaxation and reduce overwhelm. Ever been that person on a weekend or even holiday, enjoying family or “me” time, only to receive a call or email to tell you of that piece of work that is so urgent it needed doing yesterday?
I remember vividly 2 occasions whilst working as a criminal barrister when I had the holiday shine dimmed having made the mistake of making myself contactable by the clerks and not being clear about the boundaries I needed respecting for my own wellbeing whilst abroad.
Living and Learning
Despite the pre-trip conversations about whether I was just “Away” or “Away Away”, (clerk-speak for contactable or not), I recall answering a call whilst on the beautiful beach of Ko Phi Phi island, Thailand, dressed in no more than a bikini and sarong with intermittent internet access offered by only the occasional internet café, and told about a mega-urgent advice on notice of appeal required by the Court of Appeal within 24 hours. Really? I don’t think so. Without going in to the rights and wrongs of why that advice request was ever thought necessary on such ridiculous timescales, the big issue was that it was impossible to respond to it there and then. I needed to be back home to do so, at my desk.
Consequently, the last 3 days of the holiday were entirely ruined by the request (however unnecessary and avoidable) at the back of my mind, gnawing away at me whilst I tried to salvage the last few days of relaxation and enjoyment. Lesson learned you’d think. And yet a not dissimilar interruption arose even on a short weekend trip away, next time to Prague, whilst on the Charles Bridge to be precise.
Clearly there is work to do on establishing and sticking to personal boundaries. Also, considering whether we are responsible for feeding into the unhealthy narrative that we should somehow become indispensable at work.
But hand in hand comes the need to build an awareness around the dangers of digital distraction and how to avoid them. Ask yourself the bold and perhaps obvious question: “Who is in control here?” Whilst the answer should be “you”, the honest truth is often that we’ve become slaves to the very tools designed to help not hinder us in our day to day working lives. Remember, technological advances have been designed to make working lives simpler, not more complex; easier not more stressful.
Finding Solutions to suit the 24/7 digital age
Of course, I appreciate the tension here between the over-reliance on technology, particularly post-pandemic, for connection to others, particularly globally, and the troubling rise in unhealthy overuse, like my client, given the 24/7 “always on” world in which we now live. So much turns on how to ensure staying fully present in whatever task is being attended to at any one time.
So, what solutions might assist?
- Remove notification sounds, alerts and banners from both your phone and other devices, to avoid the phenomenon observed by recent research which is that by continually responding and reacting to digital distraction, over time we reduce both our attention span and our ability to quickly return to the levels of concentration we enjoyed immediately prior to that particular interruption.
- Turn phone onto silent mode for similar reasons
- Remove phone from view for more focused work and to avoid temptation to be constantly checking
- Don’t be afraid to activate airplane mode for short, intense bursts of fully immersive and concentrated work.
- Create a dedicated channel reserved for a select few to use in emergencies, whether on your phone or email, for example where you have caring responsibilities.
- Block check emails at set times in the day. Perhaps start by allocating 2 or 3 specific, and reasonably tight, times during which you will visit your inbox.
- Use your automatic out of office facility, not just during holidays but also during the working day, to communicate to clients/ senders the times during which you will be checking. This way you manage their expectations and take back control of the times that you will permit interruptions. An effective one to consider adopting reads: This is an auto reply. It may be unconventional, but I usually only check and deal with emails at 12:00 and after 16:00. This means I can provide a better service to everyone, including you, as I avoid sitting in my inbox all day. If you need something urgently from me, please just give me a call.
- If, for any reason, you have to check within the allotted “quiet times”, get in and out of your inbox quickly – do the thing that you need, then re-visit all the other “noise” during the pre-allocated times.
- Remove social media apps from mobiles and allow strict times for access. That way, you can steer clear of the dreaded social media “death scroll” or “twitter rabbit hole”
- Get separate work and personal mobiles, particularly if you are away. That way you can be sure to create a clear and non-negotiable delineation between work and home life.
- Adopt a growth mindset when it comes to understanding where your areas of development lay. Don’t be afraid to upskill, where needs be, to learn other strategies to support you regain control of your technological devices.
- Consciously reduce your use, both at work and at home. If you don’t already, start with the rule “no tech at the (dinner) table”.
- Switch off. De-tox. It’s a biggie, I know, but it’s the sure-fire way to become fully present. Start by switching off for a full 24 hours. Whilst a cold turkey solution to the digital revolution, I suspect it may be one that many of us secretly desire. Dare to give it, and these other suggestions, a go.
Enjoy the peace to be re-discovered from implementing any number of these strategies. Your future self will thank you.
Nikki Alderson Biography
Nikki Alderson, specialist Corporate & Executive Coach, Keynote Speaker & Best Selling Author, & former Criminal Barrister with 19 years’ experience,
- supports organisations, law firms & barristers’ Chambers to retain female talent; &
- empowers female lawyers to achieve career ambitions.
Nikki specialises in 3 areas:
- Women Leadership Transition & Change;
- Enhanced Career break returner support; &
- Workplace resilience, confidence & wellness.
She is the author of Amazon No.1 Bestseller Raising the Bar: empowering female lawyers through coaching , (https://amzn.to/3fodKQX) nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards, Champion of the Year Category & finalist in the 2019 International Coaching Awards, International Coach of the Year Category.