Why Tech Distractions Make It Hard to Get Anything Done

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2015-02-12 Print this article Print
Tech Distractions


You've still got the same limited attention span and the same rigidly finite amount of time. The only difference is that everything around you is becoming increasingly better at luring you into the quicksand of distraction.

That's why it's harder now to get things done than it was five years ago. And five years from now it's going to be harder still.

Addictive and distracting technology doesn't harm all aspects of your professional life equally. It's still easy to do the quick and dirty tasks—fire off an email, return a phone call, check on the status of a project. But the deep-thinking, long attention span projects become increasingly difficult. And those are the things that tend to be most important.

While the distracting consumer tech stuff is trying to survive by taking more of your attention, it gets to the point where you need to consider your own survival as an effective professional.

How to survive in the attention jungle

It's getting to the point where simply being in the attention jungle—being online or interacting with consumer technology—means that your limited attention is going to be taken from you.

A small number of highly-evolved members of our species have figured out the solution, which is this:

Unplug: Leave the jungle systematically and regularly.

One such evolved human is comedian, actor and producer Louis CK. This is a guy who manages to write, edit, produce, direct and star in his award-winning TV series, while simultaneously maintaining a stand-up career which involves constant travel and writing completely new material every year.

His stage persona is that he's a lazy schlub, but in fact he's highly productive, effective and successful.

In a Rolling Stone interview two years ago, he revealed his secret (note that this is Louis CK, so the interview has some very profane language). Here's what he said about how he gets things done:

"When it's time to write, I have one computer that has no ability to get on the Internet. Because the ability to just move your finger less than a millimeter and be looking [at highly distracting content]—it's too much. So if you put a couple of moves between you and that, you've got a fighting chance. When I hit a stopping moment in what I'm writing—a moment of agitation—that itch always leads to a brand-new thing, to inspiration. But if you bail out and [give in to distraction], you're robbing yourself. It's terrible... The worst thing happening to this generation is that they're taking discomfort away from themselves."

So that's part of the secret: A "computer that has no ability to get on the Internet." An extremely powerful and effective method for beating distraction is to gather all the files you need to work on your project, then put yourself in a situation where it's super inconvenient to get online. Turn off your phone and put it away. Use a computer that's not connected. Go to a room or some other place where nobody can interrupt you.

In addition to beating distraction, this method actually changes your mindset and helps put you into a mental space of creativity, focus and flow.

There are other methods that help, too. One is to isolate some of your distracting activities for certain times of day or specific days of the week. For example, limit your social networking activity to after hours, and only once per day. Break the habit of checking your phone constantly for incoming messages, posts or status updates. Play video games only on weekends.

We live in an attention jungle, where all the predators around us are evolving super effective ways to consume our most precious resource—our attention.

The only way to get it back is to get out of the jungle once in a while.


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