Managing Digital Distractions In The Workplace

by Srikant Chellappa Aug 30,2019

The People Strategy Leaders Podcast

with Srikant Chellappa, CEO

Technology is such a big part of our world that we really cannot imagine life without it.

The very thought of not being able to Google or Wiki something fills you and me with terror. Where else will we get our quick information fix? Of course, it is not as if libraries do not exist. They do. They just don’t sit within our pockets, easily accessible at all times. 

And for all the ways in which technology has made information more accessible, it has also made it that much harder for us to focus. We are constantly bombarded by information. Be it ads on the laptop, notifications on mobile, pop-ups asking for our attention, there are so many things clamoring for our attention.

And as a result, our focus is fractured. The demands on our attention spans are so much that despite our best efforts, we try to do everything all at once, and then wonder why are mentally exhausted.

The culture of being connected 24/7 has its advantages but negatives far outweigh the positives. It is simply not possible to be ‘present’ 24/7. We need to disconnect, step away for a bit and then return. 

A digital detox is necessary every day. The ever-intruding presence of technology does not just affect our personal lives. It also affects our professional lives.  Digital distractions in the workplace are a problem all of us deal with, and with varying levels of success, I must add. 

Juggling multiple projects and tasks means that we are constantly jumping from one thing to another and struggling with the residual irritation of not being able to mark something complete. And let us face, at least 90% of us love a good to-do list, especially when we get to mark something as done. 

Also read: Productivity Tips for Achieving Workplace Goals in 2019

Multitasking is possible but at a cost. It results in decreased productivity, loss of valuable time, and worst of all, it simply exacerbates mental fatigue.

You are human, with two hands. Not an octopus with eight arms that can accomplish a lot. And if an octopus had to do eight different things at the same time, it would give up, wouldn’t it?

So, how can you reclaim your time from technology?

Identify the time-vortexes

Which aspect of technology is sucking up your time? Is it the anticipation of notifications on your phone. Is it the urge to refresh your email in the hope that something new pops up? Or is it websites that lead you down one rabbit hole after another, bringing you from the SBI model of feedback to the possibility of extraterrestrial life? (in the interest of full disclosure, it happened to me.) 

All of these things suck up more time than you actually think they do. And it’s not just the time spent on these devices. Rather, it also includes the time spent on getting back on track. The longer the disruption, the longer it takes for us to get back to the task at hand. And sometimes, it is hard to get back at all because that train of thought has long since died a painful death. 

There are apps that identify how much time you spend on certain apps – the irony is not lost on me here. You, yourself, can identify how much time you spend on distractions. But, by figuring out where the majority of your time is going, you can come to the next step of solving your problems.

Start small

Digital detoxes are not easy. Our minds have been trained to seek out the rush of dopamine that comes from checking out notifications. Even though it is a process of diminishing returns – you need to spend more time on your device to achieve a greater rush of dopamine – we keep going back time and time again because our brain has been trained to wait for that hit of dopamine. 

Start small before you work your way up. Keep your device away for ten minutes. Or do not use any technology for ten minutes and instead focus on planning, writing, preparing etc, whatever you must do to organize your thoughts and prepare for the day ahead. 

You can slowly increase the amount of time you spend device free. The first times are going to be hard, you will inevitably slip up or cave in, but the important thing is to preserve and keep going. 

Identify your most productive times

Everybody has a period of time during the day which they work like a demon has opened the pits of hell under them. 

For some people, it’s the morning, in all its glory, for some others is the evening and there are a special few who can maintain a steady pace of work throughout the day. Block your difficult tasks for your most productive times, so that you can stick to your rote tasks when you are feeling not so hot. Obviously, this is not going to work all the time since certain projects demand that they are done regardless of how productive you are feeling. But it is useful to identify when you are at your most productive. That way, you can distribute your own workload in a way that matches your ability to do it.

Use help

The Pomodoro Technique – devised by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, is a time management technique that is used to break down work into 25 minute chunks, which short breaks in between to refresh yourself. 

It works for some and not very well for others, but there is no harm in trying out. Adapt the process to better suit your own needs as always.

Sometimes it’s not even a technique that you need to use. Simply creating a to-do list that details where you need to prioritize can be helpful in ensuring that you get your work done.

Do not be afraid to put up a sign

Sometimes, you just need uninterrupted chunks of time to work, simply because you are working on something timebound and sensitive.

In cases like this, do not think too much and simply put up a sign that says. ‘At work. Do not interrupt. Unless there’s a fire or physical danger.’ Putting up a sign might feel obnoxious, but it is alright to carve time out for yourself, and plus you can always make the sign a funny one to soften the blow if you feel like you are being too harsh. 

Engagedly cannot wean you away from technology, but we can definitely help utilize technology that helps you perform better. To see Engagedly can help, get in touch with our experts!

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Srikant Chellappa
CEO & Co-Founder of Engagedly

Srikant Chellappa is the Co-Founder and CEO at Engagedly and is a passionate entrepreneur and people leader. He is an author, producer/director of 6 feature films, a music album with his band Manchester Underground, and is the host of The People Strategy Leaders Podcast. He is currently working on his next book, Ikigai at the Workplace, which is slated for release in the fall of 2024.

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