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Mastering Distractions Online (A Guide)

Mastering Distractions Online (A Guide)

Mastering Distractions Online

How to Deal with Online Distractions

We live in a world of endless distractions. If it’s not your email, it’s your Facebook; if it’s not your phone, it’s your tablet. One after the other, over and over, ad infinitum. This is the online world: a bee-boisterous hive, tantalizing us with its sweet, honeyed tangents, though we know full well we’ll never be satiated, and might even suffer a sting. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve assembled a guide on how to minimize or even eliminate online distractions and refocus your energies toward productive ends. While there’s plenty of scattered information online, that only adds to the confusion. Here, we’ve put it all in one place for your definitive source. Enjoy!


The Science of Distraction

The first way to address any problem is to understand it. So, here’s some encouraging information about the science of distraction: it’s not (entirely) your fault! The human brain is, in part, wired to roam and wander at whim. Often, this is how we stumble upon our greatest, most profound ideas – in addition to more than a few trivial, dumb, and soon-to-be-forgotten ones. Moreover, with the ever-expanding flood of information spilling out from the Internet, we’re becoming increasingly exposed to distractions in a possibly unprecedented manner. It’s possible we’re even becoming used to it. The links below explore this complex science further, including information on both the benefits and pitfalls of distraction.

Helpful Links

  • One of the reasons we get distracted easily is because distractions “turn on different parts of our brains and do so more quickly than the daily grind of paying attention,” according to this article highlighting the research of MIT neuroscientists.
  • Fast Company enumerates 3 reasons you should, in fact, let yourself be distracted. Though that task in itself seems a bit challenging.
  • The Boston Globe is also quick to point out some potential benefits of distraction in this article, profiling the work of Harvard psychologist Shelley H. Carson.
  • For a more comprehensive inquiry into the science behind distraction, check out this TEDx talk by Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a leading specialist in the field. An even more in-depth talk by Gazzaley can be found here, as part of UC Irvine’s OpenCourseWare series.
Limiting Workplace Distractions

Who are we kidding? The primetime for distractions is at work. You’re bored, stressed, tired, burnt out – anything that can get your mind off the accumulating to-do list is a welcome reprieve, even if it’s only for a few seconds. Problem is, it’s gotta get done at some point, and putting it off with assorted ephemera is only going to make matters worse in the end. All this said, it helps to have a workplace that doesn’t exacerbate the problem, many of which do – excessive meetings, chatty co-workers and managers, inefficient workspaces, etc. Below are some telling links about distraction in the workplace, along with a few potential solutions your office might consider.

Helpful Links

  • In its annual “Wasting Time at Work” survey, Salary.com provides the most detailed, comprehensive numbers on workplace distractions, from how much total time is wasted, to what exactly it’s being wasted on.
  • Mashable has a helpful, if alarming, infographic on social media distractions, which cost the economy $650 million.
  • Psychology Today highlights how cutting down on meetings is one of the easiest ways to eliminate office-induced distractions.
  • Business Insider offers some unique tips in how to design your office for optimal productivity.
  • There’s also science out on the “perfect” workspace.
  • Overall work environment is another factor. Forbes lists the 5 essential elements that create a healthy, productive office.
Productivity and Anti-Distraction Apps

We so often espouse Malthusian fears about technology – its all-consuming nature, its anti-humanistic potential – that we forget it’s possible to leverage tech to our advantage. In recent years, applications designed to decrease distractions and increase productivity have become popular, proven tools to help combat the ubiquitously online, interconnected world. Skeptics will predictably cry fighting-fire-with-fire, but, for certain individuals, the app game can be very beneficial. Its greatest asset? The ability to strike away temptation altogether. So when you know that checking Facebook isn’t even an option, that desire to check it needlessly suddenly diminishes. For many of these apps, they aspire to be time machines, wiping away the glut of present-day interfaces in favor of the minimalist approach of early desktops, even typewriters. Ah, the simple life. Here’s a few links to app recommendations and information on the productivity app revolution.

Helpful Links

  • The Harvard Business Review writes here how app management will give you a productivity edge at work.
  • Inc.com lists 10 excellent applications designed to cut distractions and increase concentration.
  • Especially plagued by the temptation of social media? Here’s a breakdown of some of the most effective and popular apps built exclusively to shutter social media haunts.
  • Lifehack offers an excellent guide to the top 50 productivity apps conveniently available right on your iPhone.
DIY Solutions

All the above may very well help – we hope it does – but let’s be honest: at the end of the day, it’s up to you to stay focused. This will probably take a whole slew of virtues: discipline, will, fortitude, patience, and more. Perhaps more than anything, it will require you to learn to say “no.” No to the Facebook message in-waiting; no to the trending YouTube video; no to the Instagram notification. Recognize that these items aren’t going anywhere. They can be put aside. Right now, the priority is staring you right in the face. Sure, it might not be easy to look directly back, but imagine how much worse it will look in three hours when you still haven’t properly approached it. Below we’ve recommended links that give some savvy advice on how to regain your focus and work ethic all by yourself.

Helpful Links

  • Learn how to reduce distractions and procrastination by “making it less fun.”
  • The Atlantic explains how regular breaks are crucial to maintaining focus, and gives us the scientifically proven break schedule.
  • Here’s an article that differentiates distractions by interruptions (uncontrollable) and temptations (controllable), with a little Nietzsche thrown in.
  • Check out this scientific guide to saying “no” to distractions.
  • U.S. News and World Report offers an insightful, 8-step guide to minimizing individual workplace distractions.
  • Becoming Minimalist gives us 10 unconventional habits to avoid distraction both at work and in our personal lives.
The Consequences of a Distracted World

However you choose to cut out the riff-raff of the online world, know that you’re doing yourself a huge favor – both in the short run and the long run. First, you’ve now freed yourself to attend to the task at hand. Gone are the days of futile procrastination and perpetual interruption. Get to work. Second, and most important, you’ve actually reversed a dangerous and unhealthy activity. In our current state of constant distraction, getting anything done – or even simply having a moment’s rest – is like playing a never-ending game of Whackamole. It’s exhausting and deeply unsatisfying. Further, it’s been proven to be hazardous to our mental health. Perhaps in the future we will have adapted to such stimuli, but right now, we’re struggling with it. The world is busy and confusing enough as it is – why make it more so? Our parting links concern the real pitfalls of online distraction, with possible outcomes and solutions.

  • A particularly intriguing article in the New York Times examines how the emerging culture of distraction might be re-wiring future generations’ brains, with potentially alarming results.
  • The New Yorker similarly warns that today’s technology is weakening our brains.
  • Doctors agree that excessive online use may increase the risk of depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric problems, especially among teens.
  • And don’t miss this indispensable piece with Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember.