Are you addicted to distractions?

Here are three easy ways to break your distraction addiction

It's 10AM and you are at your desk with a mug of coffee. You don’t have a meeting scheduled so you figure it’s a good time to start working on writing that report you’ve been putting off. The report is critical for moving your most important project forward and securing more funding. It also happens to be due in your boss’s inbox in two days’ time.

You open a Word document and write the title of the report. You’re not quite sure what to write next. Just then, a notification flashes up on your screen – you have a new email from a business prospect. 

“Better just check what they want,” you say to yourself.

You hop into your email and read it. The message isn’t actually that important and you don’t really need to respond. However, given that you are now in your inbox, you start opening up emails you have already read earlier this morning, wondering if there is anything you can send a quick reply to and feel a little hit of progress. Fifteen minutes have now passed and you remember that you’re meant to be writing a report. You switch back to the Word document.

You’re still stuck on the first sentence. You have a few goes but nothing seems quite impactful enough. Just then your phone lights up with a notification that says you have five new likes on the photo of your son that you posted on Facebook last night. You open up Facebook and see who has liked it. You feel smug and popular as your photo now has 40 likes.

“I might just have a quick scroll through my news feed,” you think to yourself. Forty minutes, 10 likes, five comments – and one purchase of a gadget you’ll probably never use – later, you shake yourself out of your Facebook fog and get back to your Word document.

It’s now 11am and a whole hour has passed, and you’re not quite sure how that has happened.

If that sounds like your morning, you may be facing a distraction addiction. But don’t worry – you’re not alone. Research shows that we check our mobile phone an average of 85 times per day. Essentially, we can’t go a measly 10 minutes without just checking our phone for something. In addition, a survey of over 5,000 leaders showed that 78% admitted to checking their emails frequently throughout the day.

And most of us are bombarded with notifications from our phones, watches and computers every few minutes. Distractions are everywhere.

While you may think this is harmless, research by the University of London has shown that even just the presence of notifi cations on our screens decreases our IQ by an average of 10 points. That’s the same loss we receive from not having slept the night before, and twice as much as the  effect of smoking marijuana. So, if you are ready to beat your battle with distraction, here are three tips on how to do so.

1. Switch off ALL notifications

Oscar Wilde famously said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” Notifications tempt us. They flash up on our screen and scream, “Read me now!” One of the simplest ways to break your distraction addition is to turn off all your notifications. This means across all your devices, not just one. Removing temptations helps make it easier to keep focused on the task at hand. 

While turning off notifications will probably make you sweat with anxiety for the first few days – who knows what important
status updates you may miss?! – in the long run this is the fisrst step towards changing your distraction habits.

2. Go on flight mode

So you've switched off all your notifications, but your phone still rings and beeps when people are trying to contact you via the good old-fashioned phone. While you may feel perfectly happy sending that blocked number to voicemail, it's too easy to pick up the phone when your partner calls and have a little chat.

To avoid the temptation of the call or SMS, switch your phone to flight mode. Just like turning off notifications, if you can eliminate the temptation to begin with, it's far easier to create blocks of distraction-free time in your day.

3. Turn your phone to grayscale

Have you ever noticed how bright and colourful and fun the screen of your phone looks? Sort of like those bright and colourful and fun slot bachines in Vegas? This is not a coincidence. The makers of many of the social media applications you use on your phone employ hundreds of 'attention engineers' – the very same people that try to make gambling addictive are also applying the same tricks to your phone.

Beat them at their own game by switching your phone to grayscale. As senior editor of The Atlantic James Hamblin says, "Instagram, when everything is in grayscale, looks pretty awful."


Amantha Imber is the founder of Inventium, Australia’s leading innovation consultancy. Her latest book, The Innovation Formula, tackles the topic of how organisations can create a culture in which innovation thrives.